North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il arrived in China today, official media from both countries said, in unusually open reporting of Kim’s latest visit to his cash-strapped country’s chief ally.
China’s state Xinhua news agency described it as a “stopover” but the foreign ministry in Beijing refused to reveal if Kim would meet Chinese officials or if he was only transiting on his return home from Russia.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) confirmed Kim “will pay a visit to the northeast area of the People’s Republic of China on August 25 on his way home”, but offered no more details.
Previous visits by Kim to China have been shrouded in secrecy and only officially confirmed by either side after his departure.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, quoting sources, said that the train carrying the North Korean leader was spotted at a Chinese railway station on Thursday.
It said that the decision to cross Chinese territory may be a move to shorten Kim’s train ride back to his impoverished country, which relies heavily on its neighbor and communist ally for survival.
Kim – known for shunning air travel and taking extraordinary security measures – crossed into China’s northeastern Heilongjiang province by train at the border city of Manzhouli, Xinhua said.
It is Kim’s first visit to the country since May, when he told Chinese President Hu Jintao that he remained committed to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and hoped six-party nuclear disarmament talks would resume.
On Wednesday, Kim held his first summit with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at a Siberian garrison near the traditionally Buddhist city of Ulan-Ude, and again voiced hopes for the resumption of the six-way talks.
The summit ended with a Kremlin announcement that North Korea was ready to resume dialogue without preconditions and abandon atomic enrichment and testing once the six-party talks restarted.
But both the United States and South Korea – who along with China and Japan make up the other six countries involved in the process – dismissed the proposal as nothing new.