Kim Jong-un, North Korea's new leader, has said that his main aspiration is to develop the country's economy and improve living standards in one of the world's poortest nations, the latest sign that he may be planning reforms.
He was quoted by China's Xinhua news agency on Friday as telling Wang Jiarui, head of the Chinese Communist Party's international department, in Pyongyang: "Developing the economy and improving livelihoods, so that the Korean people lead happy and civilised lives, is the goal the Korean Workers' Party is struggling towards".
It appears to be the highest-level diplomatic meeting Kim has held since taking power over seven months ago.
Although the report offered no details, there has been mounting speculation that Kim's one-party state is looking at
reforms to help lift an economy that has suffered from decades of mismanagement and international sanctions.
Those economic problems have been compounded by drought and recently widespread flooding that left nearly 120 people dead and damaged about 46,000 hectares of crops.
Analysts in Seoul, South Korea's capital, said Kim was probably preparing for a package of reform measures on the economy and Wang's visit could be seen as a public show of support from China.
"By emphasising the importance of food and civilised living conditions, I think he wanted to request for China's support," said Yang Moo-jin, professor at University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
He said he expects Kim to unveil his reforms early next year after the scheduled government changes in China, South Korea and the US.
Kim Jong-un, who took over the family dictatorship last December, has presented a sharply contrasting image to his late father Kim Jong-il.
In the face of broad sanctions over its missile and nuclear weapons programmes, North Korea has been forced to rely heavily on aid from its neighbour and closest ally China.
In a sign he may be looking to emerge from such isolation, he has dispatched his head of parliament, Kim Yong-nam, to Vietnam and Laos, the North Korean KCNA news agency reported.
Kim, in his late twenties, has sought to impose his own mark on the top leadership of North Korea, and recently ousted Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho, the country's leading military figure, who was seen as close to Kim Jong-il.
He was named marshal of the army in a move that cemented his power. He already heads the Workers' Party of Korea and is first chairman of the National Defence Commission.
The leader is preparing to experiment with agricultural and economic reforms after purging Ri Yong-ho for opposing change, a source with ties to both Pyongyang and Beijing told Reuters
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|William A. Cook|