Beijing: North Korea`s reclusive leader Kim Jong Il was in China on Thursday on his second visit this year to his country`s biggest source of diplomatic and financial support, according to teachers at a school he visited.
The visit, which has not been announced by either country, is highly unusual, coming just three months after the last visit of Kim, who rarely travels and when he does goes by train. It came particularly as a surprise because former US president Jimmy Carter is in North Korea and many had speculated he would meet the leader.
But his stop in Jilin city in Jilin province in northeastern China was confirmed by two teachers at the Yuwen Middle School.
"He definitely came over. But I`m not sure if his son was with him or what time he came," said a physical education teacher who would give only his surname Zhao.
Another teacher said Kim visited the school in the morning for about 20 minutes. He refused to give his name.
Kim may be travelling with a son to consult with Chinese officials on plans to transfer power to a successor, South Korea`s Yonhap News Agency and YTN television in Seoul said.
It`s widely believed that Kim is preparing to transfer power to his third and youngest son, Kim Jong Un, and many North Korea watchers believe the son will be granted a key party position next month.
Kim`s father, late president Kim Il Sung, attended the school from 1927 to 1930 after his family fled the Japanese occupation of Korea. At the time, Yuwen was a hot-bed of leftist thinking. Biographies of Kim say that he began absorbing communist ideology while at Yuwen. In 1928, Kim organised protests against "reactionary teachers" at Yuwen in addition to demonstrations against Japan and the purchase of Japanese goods, according to the Jilin government`s website.
According to Yonhap, citing an unidentified high-ranking Seoul official, Kim`s special armoured train crossed the border into China early Thursday. YTN carried a similar report but said Kim arrived in China late Wednesday night.
The surprise trip comes as Carter makes a rare visit to North Korea on a private mission to secure the freedom of an imprisoned American. There was no word on whether Carter — who met in 1994 with Kim Il Sung — had been scheduled to meet the current leader.
There was no comment from China`s Foreign Ministry or from the Communist Party`s international liaison department, which deals with relations with North Korea.
North Korea announced in June that new ruling Workers` Party leaders would be elected in early September, sparking speculation that the move is aimed at boosting a government campaign to hand over power to a Kim heir.
Speculation on the succession intensified after the 68-year-old Kim reportedly suffered a stroke in 2008. Kim`s health problems prompted concerns about instability and a possible power struggle in the nuclear-armed country if he were to die without anointing a successor.
Kim last visited China in May, meeting top leaders, including President Hu Jintao.