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China key to new North Korea talks

After more than a year, North Korea has agreed to rejoin six-party talks on its nuclear program the week of July 25.

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For most of Kim Jong Il's reign in North Korea, relations between China and his isolated country have alternated between extreme suspicion and a grudging politeness based on mutual need.

The most intensive diplomacy between North Korea and China has taken place since Mr. Kim began to use his nuclear card two years ago. Now, as Kim agrees to rejoin the six-party talks in Beijing this month to discuss eliminating his nuclear-weapons program, many experts say that relations between the two states are ever more important.

China, in fact, has profited greatly from its role in the talks: It has drawn closer to both North and South Korea as a result of negotiations, while Washington has not.

Washington has counted heavily on China to persuade Kim to stop making a bomb - but in an international atmosphere in which the US is perceived to be bogged down in Iraq, China appears to have shifted its policy from "the nuclear problem in Korea, to the stabilization of North Korea," as Shin Sang Jin of Kwangwoon University in South Korea puts it.

Troubles between the two are longstanding, even if not well known. When the young Kim was brought to Beijing by his father, Kim Il Sung, in 1983, amid signals the son would take over the North one day - China didn't want a meeting. The 30 minutes finally accepted by Deng Xiaoping was secret. In serious communist states, dynastic rule is taboo - a point that China often made to the elder Kim. Nor was Deng impressed with the young Kim, say senior Chinese diplomats.

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