Seoul: North Korea`s young heir apparent accompanied his father Kim Jong-Il on two visits to China this year in preparation for an eventual power transfer, a report said on Monday.
The leader`s youngest son behaved like a bodyguard to his ailing father during the trips in May and August and travelled under an assumed name, Yonhap news agency quoted sources on the North as saying.
Jong-Un, believed aged about 27, apparently cemented his position as heir when he was appointed four-star general and given key party posts during last week`s rare communist party meeting.
His official photo was published in state media for the first time.
Analysts had speculated that Kim Jong-Il`s visit in August was aimed at garnering support for the hereditary power succession from China, the impoverished North`s sole major ally and economic lifeline.
"Jong-Un, dressed in a suit, acted as if he was a bodyguard and accompanied Kim Jong-Il closely," Yonhap quoted a source as saying, adding the trip would be used to showcase his loyalty to his father.
But the young protégé did not attend key meetings with senior Beijing officials such as the meetings in May and August between Kim Jong-Il and Chinese President Hu Jintao, said the source.
South Korea`s National Intelligence Service said it could not confirm the report.
A North Korean ruling party delegation visited Beijing late last week in an apparent move to brief Chinese officials on the party meeting, the largest for 30 years.
Hu on Saturday pledged to strengthen ties with the new leadership in North Korea, saying Beijing would work with them to "promote and expand cooperation" and "strengthen communication" on regional and international issues.
"Now with Kim Jong-Un becoming the de facto next leader, he will soon visit China just like Kim Jong-Il did in the past," said the source quoted by Yonhap.
Kim Jong-Il, after his status as leader-in-waiting was confirmed at a 1980 party meeting, visited China three years later.