North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il Friday paid a visit to China likely focused on securing economic aid, media reports said, but it was unclear if he was accompanied by his son and heir apparent Jong-Un. Kim senior is staying at a hotel in the northeastern city of Mudanjiang, Yonhap news agency quoted government sources as saying, while YTN and MBC television stations carried similar reports. “It’s not certain whether Kim Jong-Un accompanied his father or not,” one official told Yonhap. Another official told the news agency that the approved list of North Korea’s 70-member entourage did not show the son’s name.
Spokespersons in Seoul and China’s foreign ministry declined to comment. Earlier South Korean media reports had only mentioned a visit by Jong-Un, saying a special train reserved for the North’s leaders arrived early Friday in the Chinese border city of Tumen. Kim senior’s trip to China — his impoverished nation’s major ally and benefactor — was a presumed follow-up to his last visit in August last year when the 69-year-old travelled to the country’s northeast. On that occasion he met China’s President Hu Jintao in Changchun and was urged by the Chinese leader to open up his nation’s state-controlled economy.
The North is seen as hesitant to adopt Chinese-style economic reforms for fear of loosening the regime’s grip over its people, but it faces persistent severe food shortages. The regime is also desperate to improve living standards and revive the crumbling economy before the 100th anniversary next year of the birth of founding president Kim Il-Sung, the current leader’s father. Friday’s trip reflects Kim’s desire to strengthen economic ties, said Kim Yong-Hyun, an expert at Seoul’s Dongguk University.