Global Times: Beijing and Pyongyang on Thursday hailed North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s visit to China as a significant trip to make “new contributions” to the bilateral ties that opened a new chapter in 2018.
The Chinese side spoke highly of Kim’s visit coming at the beginning of 2019 and in a year that marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said at a routine press conference on Thursday.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) also called Kim’s trip a “historic visit” after elaborating the tour in a detailed article on Thursday.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan hosted a welcome banquet for Kim and his wife upon his arrival in Beijing on Tuesday, the reported birthday of the North Korean leader.
Kim said he was grateful to Xi for taking time from a busy schedule at the beginning of the year to receive the North Korean delegation, the KCNA reported.
Kim on Wednesday visited a Tong Ren Tang pharmaceutical plant in Yizhuang, where he inspected relevant processing and production lines of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) that use both traditional and modern techniques.
Though the company has no business in North Korea, the reception of Kim was “grand” and garnered wide attention in the factory, a Tong Ren Tang worker told the Global Times on condition of anonymity on Thursday, without giving further details.
Kim was likely to be introduced to a pestle and mortal used for medicine pounding in China’s Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and a mannequin displaying acupuncture points, said the worker.
Photos released by the Xinhua News Agency show Kim being presented with the company’s bestsellers, including the Angong Niuhuang Wan, a pill made from cow bezoar that is allegedly good for heart and brain blood vessels.
Similar pills are also produced in North Korea and are among the bestsellers of North Korean products on Chinese e-commerce platforms.
Touring the production site, Kim highly appreciated that the plant has undergone a good development by registering many achievements in production and technical upgrading through “enterprising and determined efforts,” KCNA reported.
North Korea has rich medicinal materials such as ginseng, while the country badly needs a modern production line and advanced technologies to process such materials, Chinese analysts said.
Tong Ren Tang is a typical example to successfully develop TCM in a modern way, and the Chinese company’s path is highly valuable for North Korea to learn the experience and avoid twists and turns, Da Zhigang, director of the Institute of Northeast Asian Studies at Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Thursday.
For North Korea, improving people’s life expectancy and quality with better medicines, as well as increasing people’s income by developing the medical industry, is a focus of the current leadership, said Da.
Kim’s visit to the Chinese factory on Wednesday came after his inspection tour of the Myohyangsan Medical Appliances Factory in North Korea in August 2018, during which he felt “very concerned about and disappointed” with the North Korean factory’s progress in remodeling and modernization.
In the beginning of 2018, he toured the country’s first pharmaceutical industrial base, the Pyongyang Pharmaceutical Factory, demanding staff to “dedicate their passion” to produce medicines “with pride,” the KCNA reported.
In his New Year address on January 1, Kim urged to modernize pharmaceutical and medical appliance factories, upgrade medical institutions and raise the level of medical service.
The pharmaceutical and medical industry has been a focus of Kim’s ambition to improve the domestic health industry and also a trial to boost foreign trade amid international sanctions, said Chinese experts.
If the industry is mature, it could also be a great contributor to North Korea’s exports and foreign exchange, said Da.
“Medical and pharmaceutical sectors face rare limitation as they are not included in the UN sanction lists and could be used for humanitarian purposes,” he noted.
Some 17 health products, including the likes of pill for goiter treatment and tea claimed to be capable of cleaning blood vessels, are currently available on the Foreign Trade of DPR of Korea website, which is owned by the country’s Ministry of External Economic Relations and went online in October 2018.
However, North Korea’s focus on military and defense capability before 2018 limited the development of the sector, said analysts. Pyongyang’s shifting its focus to economic development has provided huge potential for further cooperation with foreign countries including China, they said.
“Tourism and heath industry are the most rewarding choices for North Korea to make full use of its national resources as international sanctions are not yet lifted,” said Da.
Xu Jingbo, a Chinese scholar who studied in Japan, told the Global Times on Thursday that the most recommended products in North Korea are not marine products or others, but ginseng products and traditional medicines.
Local officials in North Korea told Xu that the quality of their medicines is “absolutely the best” as manufacturers regard their business as part of national development and they cannot “damage the great revolutionary cause” with fraud or any other misconduct.
Since as early as 2010, Chinese bloggers and businessmen have been advocating North Korean medicines on social media.