Kim Jong-il reportedly rolls into China

08:14, May 04, 2010      

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-il arrived in China by train on Monday on his first visit to the country in over four years, amid mounting international pressure over Pyongyang's nuclear tests and growing suspicions that the state may be behind the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship in late March, according to South Korean media.

The rumored visit was not confirmed by the North Korean or Chinese governments on Monday, a national holiday in China. Press officials of the foreign ministry said it had not received any information about the visit and referred the Global Times to the International Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, which could not be reached.

According to South Korea's Yonhap News Agency, citing unidentified government officials in Seoul, a 17-carriage train from North Korea arrived in the Chinese border city of Dandong, in Liaoning Province, at around 5:20 am on Monday, with Chinese police officers sealing off the area around the railway station until 6:30 am.

All regular passenger trains from North Korea to Dandong arrive in the afternoon and usually have only four or five coaches, the report said, suggesting that the 17-carriage train is Kim's armored private train.

AFP reported that an official with the tourism bureau at Dandong border crossing confirmed that Kim had arrived early on Monday.

It is thought that the train carrying Kim was headed to the eastern port city of Dalian, while a source in Dalian said the North Korean delegates had an entire wing of the Furama Hotel reserved until 7 pm on Wednesday, Yonhap said.

Japan's Kyodo News Agency carried photos of Kim getting into a car in front of the hotel, wearing his trademark khaki outfit and dark sunglasses. One source said the 68-year-old leader left Dalian on Monday afternoon, presumably for Beijing, but that he later returned to the hotel.

A booking agent in the hotel told the Global Times on Monday that all the guest rooms had been booked for the coming two days, though a member of staff in the sales department denied the North Korean leader is staying at the hotel.

Possible topics

The reported visit to China by Kim, if it turns out to be real, will be his fifth since he took office. The last time he visited China was in 2006, when he toured the country's commercial centers.

Lü Chao, an expert on North Korea at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that China-North Korea relations suffered a downturn after the country launched nuclear tests in the face of international opposition but warmed after Premier Wen Jiabao paid a visit to North Korea in October.

"Kim's possible visit is aimed at further cementing bilateral ties with China," Lü said. "China's economic achievements in recent years are sure to impress Kim, who is leading the country in seeking communism with North Korean characteristics."

Observers said Kim's reported first stop in Dalian may have to do with North Korea's plan to develop its port at Rajin, on the border with China and Russia.

Kim and his party are then likely to travel to Beijing, where he is expected to hold talks with President Hu Jintao and other members of the Chinese leadership, Kyodo reported. Economic assistance from Beijing and the North's return to the six-party nuclear talks are expected to top the agenda in bilateral discussions during Kim's visit.

Reuters reported that additional UN sanctions, imposed after Pyongyang's May 2009 nuclear test, squeezed its once lucrative arms trade and that the strain on its already dysfunctional economy has been compounded by a major currency policy blunder late last year.

As North Korea's foreign exchange shortages curbed its imports, the trade volume with China is estimated to have dropped by 4 percent in 2009, the Korea Development Institute in Seoul said in February.
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