North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un has visited a cosmetic factory near the border with China alongside his wife and top aides, the country's state media said Sunday, raising the prospect of enhanced economic ties between the two countries.
According to the Korean Central News Agency, Kim carried out inspections of a cosmetic factory in northwestern city of Sinuiju, close to China's port city of Dandong. The state-run news agency did not specify when Kim made the trip to the border area.
Kim's wife Lee Sol-ju and his top aides accompanied Kim during the visit, KCNA said. Among those in the group was Hwang Pyong-so, who was dismissed from the post of director of the North Korean military's powerful General Political Bureau last year.
"I had always hoped for a visit to the cosmetic factory in Sinuiju… They are famous for producing cosmetics with a spring scent," Kim was quoted as saying by KCNA. "After being briefed about the good results at the factory, I took some time out of my schedule to visit."
Kim's visit to Sinuijiu is part of Kim's "field guidance" on the cross-border region following his third trip to China last month. North Korea's state media reported Saturday that Kim visited a reed farm at a border island of Sindo.
Such inspection trips have raised the prospect of Pyongyang seeking to enhance cross-border economic co-operation with China, experts said, as Beijing appears to be seeking to relax the enforcement of sanctions on North Korea.
Following the historic summit between the US and North Korea in June, China has suggested that sanctions relief could be considered for North Korea. Shortly after the meeting, Chinese Foreign ministry said sanctions are "not the goal in themselves."
"When it comes to small-scale economic co-operation at the cross-border region, China's enforcement of sanctions is not likely to be as strong as it has been," said Woo Jung-yeop, research fellow at the Sejong Institute.
Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun reported Sunday that Kim Jong-un had asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to work towards lifting economic sanctions, when they met in Beijing in June after the US-North Korea summit.
China's state-run media are seen as promoting the idea of expanding cross-border economic co-operation. In an article titled "Trade boom expected along China-North Korea border," the Global Times reported last week that local businesspeople expect a trade boom along the border.
Some experts adopted a positive tone on the prospect of cross-border economic co-operation, saying China's efforts to relax economic sanctions prompts North Korea to ramp up its denuclearization efforts.
"It would be wrong if China lifts economic sanctions without any indication of denuclearization from North Korea… but North Korea has made a commitment for complete denuclearization and took some steps proactively," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.