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China considers sending high-ranking official to N. Korea.

BEIJING, Jan. 16 Kyodo

China is considering sending a high-ranking official to North Korea ahead of the Lunar New Year, as part of an annual exchange of greetings which will be more closely watched than usual by North Korea observers if it takes place.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has in the past met with Chinese envoys who visited around this time to convey President Hu Jintao's message. If he does again, it will be Kim's first known meeting with a foreign official since reports of his illness surfaced last year.

Among the candidates for the North Korea mission is Wang Jiarui, head of the Chinese Communist Party's International Department, and State Councilor Dai Bingguo, according to sources knowledgeable about China-North Korea relations.

U.S. and South Korean officials have said that Kim suffered a stroke last year.

But North Korea has vehemently rejected reports about the leader's health setback, and its official press in recent weeks has run numerous pictures of him visiting army units and factories.

Speculation of Kim's ill health intensified in September, when he failed to appear at an event marking the 60th anniversary of the country's founding. No meeting between Kim and a foreign official has been made public since that time.

Since Hu took office, China and North Korea have exchanged greetings for the Lunar New Year most frequently in the form of trips by Chinese officials to Pyongyang.

In 2004, 2005 and 2008, Wang visited North Korea and met with the North Korean leader.

No official was sent to North Korea in 2006, but that is widely believed to be because Kim had visited China in January of that year, ahead of the Lunar New Year festivities.

In 2007 and 2008, Kim visited the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang after the Lunar New Year.
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Publication:Asian Political News
Date:Jan 19, 2009
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