SEOUL — North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il apparently met with Chinese President Hu Jintao in northeastern China as he seeks the backing of his sole major ally for an expected handover of power to his son, news reports said.
"There is a high possibility that a summit between the North and China took place there on Friday," a senior South Korean government official was quoted as saying by South Korea's Yonhap news agency.
Another diplomatic source in Beijing said that a Chinese VIP from Beijing who had been in northeast China had entered the same hotel Friday where Kim was staying.
A 30-vehicle convoy believed to be carrying Kim pulled up at the hotel in the Chinese city of Changchun after driving some 90 minutes from Jilin, where the reclusive leader had stayed overnight, Yonhap and YTN TV said.
Employees told AFP that all guest rooms and meeting rooms at the Changchun hotel were "fully booked", with one saying "national-level meetings" were taking place in the building.
Hotel officials said they did not know if Kim was there, after a train believed to be carrying the North Korean leader entered China on Thursday, while an employee at Changchun airport said the highway was blocked for several hours as "some leaders" had arrived.
The ailing Kim might be accompanied to China by his 27-year-old son, Kim Jong-Un, who is widely tipped to take on a key post in the North Korean communist leadership at a rare party meeting early next month, analysts in Seoul said.
It will be only the third such gathering since the communist state was founded in 1948 and is seen as the most important party event since 1980, when Kim Jong-Il was designated to succeed his own father.
An official at Seoul's presidential office said the apparent China trip by Kim, who suffered a stroke in 2008, looked aimed at paving the way for an eventual power transfer to Kim Jong-Un.
"The most important issue for the North is succession," the official was quoted as saying by Yonhap.
Analysts said the trip was also aimed at obtaining Chinese aid to ease chronic food shortages in North Korea that have been worsened by recent floods.
Professor Yang Moo-Jin, of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said China was likely to extract concessions in return as it tries to revive a troubled six-nation dialogue on the isolated state's nuclear weapons drive.
"Through such talks, China is likely to urge Pyongyang to return to the six-party nuclear disarmament process, stop operating its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon and accept inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"In return, Beijing will probably express support for a third-generation succession in the North," Yang told AFP.
Kim's reported travels have coincided with a mercy mission to Pyongyang by former US president Jimmy Carter, who flew home Friday accompanied by an American man who had been detained in North Korea since January.
Top North Korean official Kim Yong-Nam assured Carter of the regime's willingness to resume the six-party talks, Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency said. The North walked out of the dialogue in April 2009.
Chinese nuclear envoy Wu Dawei, who has visited both Pyongyang and Seoul in recent days, said the North supported a three-step proposal made by China to restart the nuclear forum.
China wants an informal dialogue between North Korea and the United States and preliminary talks to take place before the full six-party session is resumed, he said.
But Seoul expressed reservations, calling for the North to show greater sincerity about abandoning nuclear weapons and to apologise for the March sinking of a South Korean warship.
On Thursday, Kim paid a visit to Jilin's Yuwen Middle School. His father, communist North Korea's founder Kim Il-Sung, attended the school from 1927 to 1930.
Kim Jong-Il also visited a park where the remains of anti-Japanese independence fighters are buried, Yonhap said.
Japanese television network NHK broadcast long-shot footage showing a glimpse of a short, bespectacled man, with a similar haircut to Kim and flanked by what appeared to be guards, walking through an open hall at a hotel in Jilin Friday morning.
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