It's time for authoritarian North Korea to let in some free markets, urged Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao today, following a rare meeting with a high-ranking North Korean official, reports Reuters. Wen and President Hu Jintao met yesterday with Jang Song Thaek, the powerful uncle of North Korea's young leader Kim Jong Un, encouraging North Korea to improve its laws, reform customs services, and encourage business investment. The two countries announced the creation of two special economic zones near the China-North Korea border earlier in the week.
Jang is widely considered one of the top forces for reform in the North, so getting strong support from China is vital for the new regime, notes the AP. China may consider North Korea a vital buffer between it and South Korea, Japan, and the United States, but Pyongyang has often been a difficult ally, with its bellicose rhetoric, missile and nuclear weapons programs, and ravaged economy. China's exports to North Korea totalled just $2.28 billion in 2010, while South Korea is China's third-largest trading partner. China's GDP reached $7.3 trillion in 2011, South Korea's $1.1 trillion, and North Korea's an estimated $40 billion. (Read more Jang Song Thaek stories.)