Thursday, August 26, 2010

N. Korean leader makes surprise visit to China

By Kang Hyun-kyung

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il arrived in China on his special train early Thursday morning possibly for talks with Chinese leaders, according to multiple sources.

The purpose of his surprise visit is unclear but experts speculate that it may have something to do with the grooming of Kim’s third son, Jong-un, as his successor. The younger Kim is believed to have accompanied his father.

Kim’s visit came just days after the “desperate” North expressed its willingness to return to the six-party talks.

Kim’s special train crossed the border around midnight Wednesday toward the northeastern Chinese border city of Jian, a Cheong Wa Dae official said on condition of anonymity. If confirmed, it would be his second trip to the country this year.

“We assume that Kim was aboard the train,” the official said. “There have been indications over the past few days suggesting a visit to China.”

Neither Beijing nor Pyongyang has confirmed his trip yet. However, sources said Kim arrived in Jilin Thursday afternoon and paid a visit to a middle school that his father and national founder Kim Il-sung attended for two years, as well as a memorial park symbolic of the anti-Japanese movement during its colonial occupation of Korea.

Kim’s trip came as a surprise because he was expected to meet with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter the same day.

Carter arrived in Pyongyang to seek the release of Aijalon Mahli Gomes, an American citizen who was imprisoned for illegally entering the communist state.

South Korea’s cable network YTN reported that the former U.S. president had extended his North Korean visit until Friday in an apparent bid to meet Kim.

Kim left for China on the same day that Chinese chief nuclear envoy Wu Dawei arrived in Seoul to discuss the resumption of the six-party denuclearization talks.

Seoul expressed hopes of hearing about the latest situation in the North from the Chinese envoy as he visited the reclusive country last week.

The Chinese envoy’s meeting with North Korean officials came weeks before Washington is scheduled to unveil a set of country-specific sanctions on the North later this month.

The leadership succession of the younger Kim, who is in his late twenties, is underway as Kim Jong-il’s health is reportedly deteriorating and the regime has revealed limitations in controlling its population after a failed currency reform.

In addition, North Korea watchers here said the negative fallout of devastating floods, which hit the impoverished nation last week, made it even more challenging for the North to provide relief.

Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute, said North Korea was badly affected by the recent floods.

Sinuiju, a northern city sharing the border with China, was reportedly ripped apart by torrential rain, leading North Korea to request emergency aid from the U.N.

“The North Korean leader might have calculated that the deadly floods were likely to lead to social unrest there,” he said.

Pyongyang is scheduled to hold a Workers’ Party meeting in September, where Kim is expected to let his third son, Jong-un, assume a key post that will lead to his accession to the leadership of the country.

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