Dandong: North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has arrived in China, his destitute state`s biggest benefactor, for a rare trip abroad that could defuse regional tensions and bring him much-needed aid, reports said on Monday.
China has the most influence in curbing the North`s military grandstanding and the reclusive Kim`s previous trips to his neighbour have led to steps that have reduced security concerns for the economically vibrant region and between the rival Koreas.
The trip to China would be the first in four years and comes at a time when South Korea is considering ways to respond to a suspected North Korean attack on one of its naval ships. South Korea lost 46 sailors in what could be one of the deadliest strikes since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
"We have confirmed the arrival of a special train at (the Chinese border city) Dandong, and we believe it is highly likely that Chairman Kim is on board," a South Korean government official told Yonhap news agency.
Kim later entered the Chinese port city of Dalian, Yonhap quoted officials as saying. In his last trip in 2006, Kim toured China`s industrial centres for a first-hand look under the hood of the country`s quickly growing economy.
Dalian, a thriving city that has attracted major foreign investment, is a symbol of development that Beijing`s leaders have advocated for years to Kim and his father and state founder Kim Il-sung to revive the North`s moribund economy.
A booking agent at the Furama Hotel in the city where Kim is thought to be staying told Reuters it was not accepting reservations for Monday because of "an event".
There has been no confirmation of the trip, and reporters, camping out along the railway line that Kim`s special armoured train would have to use to enter China, were hounded out of the area by Chinese security agents just before the suspected crossing.
Yonhap said the train thought to have carried Kim crossed in the pre-dawn hours of Monday with several hundred Chinese security agents sealing off the area around the train station.
Witnesses at the border said the security clampdown ended a few hours afterwards. The North`s KCNA news agency`s last report on Kim was on Saturday and said he attended a May Day concert in Pyongyang where songs including "This Is Icon of Socialism" and "Where Are You, Dear General" were performed.
In another sign pointing to a visit, a North Korean performance troupe that played at a meeting between Kim and top Chinese officials in Pyongyang, has entered China for shows in Beijing, a major Chinese newspaper reported.
The visit would be Kim`s first trip abroad since a suspected stroke in 2008.