N Korea`s Kim in China for development lessons

Wen Jiabao confirmed Kim Jong-Il`s visit for the first time on Sunday.

Updated: May 23, 2011, 13:00 PM IST

Beijing: North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il pursued a secretive visit to China on Monday, apparently aimed at taking lessons from Chinese economic development back to his isolated and impoverished nation.

His arrival on Friday came just ahead of a tri-partite weekend summit in Tokyo between China, South Korea and Japan, which agreed North Korea must show sincerity before stalled six-nation talks on its nuclear programme can resume.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao confirmed Kim`s visit for the first time on Sunday, telling South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak that the North Korean leader wanted to study China`s vibrant economy, according to a Seoul official.

A spokeswoman with China`s ruling Communist Party told a news agency on Monday Kim was still in the country but declined to provide further details.

"The leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Il, is currently visiting China," said the spokeswoman with a party department which handles international relations, who declined to provide her name.

"We will release relevant information about his visit in a timely manner."

South Korea`s Yonhap news agency said Kim was in the eastern Chinese city of Yangzhou on Monday, having arrived the day before aboard his special personal train from North Korea after at least two stops in the country`s northeast.

A motorcade believed to be transporting Kim departed from a government-run guest house in the city on Monday morning, heading to an unknown destination, it quoted sources as saying.

It is believed Kim may have come to the city to see former Chinese president Jiang Zemin, who met Kim`s late father and North Korean founder Kim Il-sung there back in 1991, Yonhap said.

South Korea`s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper said Kim met Jiang late Sunday and may be planning a visit to Shanghai, with a later stop in Beijing to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Staff at the guest house told the agency it was accepting no reservations until Tuesday, but declined to confirm whether Kim was staying there.

The Yangzhou city government declined comment. Calls to the city`s rail station went unanswered.

The visit is Kim`s third in just over a year to China, the impoverished North`s sole major ally and economic benefactor.

The trips are typically shrouded in secrecy, with details revealed by the two sides only after Kim has returned home.

During the previous visit last August, Hu urged Kim to open up his country`s state-directed economy.

South Korean officials on Sunday quoted Wen as saying Kim would seek to "understand China`s economic development and use the understanding for its own development."

Kim`s regime introduced limited reforms in 2002 but later rolled back most of them, apparently fearing that an economic opening-up would entail a loss of political control over the North`s 24 million people.

But the economy is struggling due to severe shortages of power, raw materials, and persistent food shortages.

Overseas aid is waning because of anger at the North`s nuclear and missile development and international sanctions have been imposed to try to curb those programmes.

Six-party talks aimed at scrapping the nuclear programme in exchange for diplomatic and economic benefits have been stalled for more than two years.

Bureau Report