North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (R) shakes hands with Chinese State Councillor Dai Bingguo in Pyongyang 9 December 2010. (Reuters)
South Korea's president says unification with North Korea has become more likely as people in the North become more aware of the South's affluence.
President Lee Myung-bak said Thursday that residents of the sheltered communist nation know the world is changing.
He did not elaborate on how their knowledge has expanded, or how soon unification would come.
Lee said during a trip to Malaysia that North Korea's new understanding of circumstances in the outside world as "an important change that no one can stop."
His comments were posted on the presidential web site.
Lee said South Korea has a responsibility to ensure that the North's 23 million people enjoy basic rights, and that Seoul should use its economic power to prepare for unification.
This comes after a clash between the two Koreas on Yeonpyeong island near their disputed border two weeks ago.
Meanwhile, China, whose call for talks were previously ignored by the US and its Asian allies, sent a top envoy to meet with Kim Jong Il, and an American governor whose past visits have led to warmer ties announced a new trip to the North.
As both Koreas continued to carry out military maneuvers, regional powers balanced shows of support for their allies with attempts to negotiate a detente to avert a further escalation of tensions.
The incident on 23 November 2010 cause the death of 4 South Koreans and is considered the most serious clash between the Koreas since the end of the civil war.
Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo, Beijing's top foreign policy official, turned up in Pyongyang for "warm and friendly" talks with North Korean leader Kim on Thursday, the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported.
The meeting came a day after the top American military officer slammed China for appearing unwilling to wade into the fray.
Beijing has called for calm on both sides but has done little to rein in North Korea, despite having deep ties with Pyongyang.
China fought on North Korea's side during the Korean War, and has remained the nation's only major ally as well as its main supplier of economic aid and diplomatic support.
U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Thursday that Dai's visit with Kim "is quite fortuitous." A delegation headed by Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, the No. 2 U.S. diplomat, will have talks in China next week on North Korea.
"We look forward to getting a readout of Chairman Dai's meetings in Pyongyang," Crowley said.