North Korean leader Kim Jong-il traveled to southern China Sunday during his third visit to the country in one year, in an apparent move to seek economic cooperation between Beijing and Pyongyang, reports said.
A train allegedly carrying Kim arrives in Yangzhou Sunday at 7:54 pm. [Lu Yun/Global Time]
Sources close to the local government told the Global Times that Kim was received at the local train station by a number of Yangzhou government officials, including the local party secretary.
Foreign media reports speculated that his son, Jong-un, was in the delegation.
According to Yonhap, in 1991, Kim Jong-il's father, then-president Kim Il-Sung, visited Yangzhou to hold talks with the then-Chinese president Jiang Zemin. Kim Jong-il also visited Shanghai in 2001 and toured industrial facilities in an attempt to learn about China's economic reforms.
Before his visit to Yangzhou, Kim Jong-il had reportedly traveled to China's northeastern regions to discuss an ambitious development project in Jilin Province, adjacent to North Korea, the Korean Times reported Sunday.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Sunday during his meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in Tokyo that Beijing had invited Kim Jong-il in an effort to help Pyongyang learn about China's economic development to help the North revive its economy, AFP reported.
China's Foreign Ministry declined to comment on Kim's reported visit in China, saying it did not receive such information.
Analysts say Kim Jong-il's frequent visits to China could be part of efforts to strengthen the two sides' economic ties and cement his succession plan.
Jeung Young-tae, director of the North Korean Studies Center at the Korea Institute for National Unification, told the Global Times Sunday that North Korea has gained great confidence in its military capability through a series of aggressive moves in the past year, but is still a "dwarf" with regard to its ailing economy.
It must learn from China as it cannot sustain itself, he said.
"North Korea needs to materialize its economic cooperation with China, and Kim Jong-il wants to judge through his own eyes," he added.
Apart from learning about economic reforms from China, Kim's frequent visits over the border could also be part of his political efforts to secure China's support for the power transfer to his heir apparent Kim Jong-un, Lee Seong-hyon, a senior researcher at the Korea-China Future Research Institute in Beijing, told the Global Times.
Meanwhile, South Korean media outlets and experts expressed support for economic cooperation between China and North Korea.
"We hope Pyongyang and Beijing will produce successful results in their bilateral economic cooperation to help ease the North's economic hardship," the Korean Times commented.
Lee also said that South Korea welcomes a more politically open and economically developed North Korea. However, Seoul is still not clear about the real purpose of Kim Jong-il's visit.