Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Kim Jong-Il tours China in secret

Some foreign media had already speculated the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il was in China, but now Chinese news outlets have reported his presence.

According to reports the reclusive leader visited an industrial city in northeastern China on Saturday and appeared to be heading to Beijing by train on the second day of a mysterious trip to China.

Kim has not made any public appearances since his apparent arrival in China on Friday. Details of his arrival, with whom he was meeting nor the make-up of his entourage have been made public, but his presence comes as Chinese officials meet with Japanese and South Korean counterparts in part to re-initiate 6-party talks.

Kim Jong-Il's visits have always been shrouded in secrecy. North Korean and Chinese media rarely report on his trips to China and official pictures emerge only after the North Korean leader has returned to Pyongyang.

Kim's past state visits, most recently in May and August of 2010, were confirmed by China only after they finished. But today the Global Times appeared to buck the trend. Citing a source "close to the local government", the paper confirmed Kim Jong-Il was in China but his heir apparent, Kim Jong-Un, was not among the delegation.

Details of Kim's itinerary were not laid bare however. Japan's NHK have speculated the leader was on his way to Nanjing and showed pictures of Kim emerging from a hotel in Mudanjiang on Saturday before heading to Changchun under high security. Meanwhile Asahi, the Shanghai Daily, the Global Times, Yonhap news agency and YTN television reported he had visited three high-tech industrial complexes in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province on Monday. Dong-a Ilbo also reported the North Korean leader visited a shopping mall. News reports speculated his visit would last three days before seeing him head to Shanghai [Urbanatomy].

As regards his son some reports say he may have already arrived on Chinese soil to join his father. A reporter at Japan's Nippon Television Network Corporation in Nanjing is reported to have seen a Air Koryo plane, belonging to North Korea's national airline, arriving at Nanjing Lukou International Airport on Monday evening. Kim Jong-Un was suspected to be on the plane, though this cannot be confirmed [Daily NK / Washington Post].

His visit to China is likely to discuss ways of increasing food aid and relax international sanctions. North Korea has been under heavy sanctions imposed by the international community since it began engaging in the development and testing of nuclear weapons. Skirmishes with South Korea and the sinking of a naval ship have heightened tensions between to two countries.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said he had no information on any North Korean officials visiting China, but said US officials would be visiting Pyongyang on Tuesday to meet officials and evaluate the country's food needs.

After bad weather hit crops North Korea appealed for humanitarian aid in January. A United Nations assessment completed in March said 6 million people, around a quarter of the population, needed emergency help. However, many countries are suspicious of Kim and his intentions.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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