N. Korean leader appears to be heading to third destination on China trip
BEIJINSHENYANG, China, Aug. 29 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il appears to be heading to a third destination in China, instead of returning home from a surprise trip to the neighboring ally believed to be linked to Pyongyang's father-to-son power transition process.
Kim's special train left the Chinese city of Changchun around 9:15 p.m. Saturday in what was believed to be a departure for home. But as of Sunday morning, there have been no signs the train has entered North Korea via the Chinese border cities of Dandong or Jian, the two most likely rail gateways the train had been expected to pass through.
Kim's "special train appears to have taken a different route," a diplomatic source in Beijing said, raising the possibility that the reclusive leader could have headed further north to the cities of Yanji or Tumen in northeastern China near the border with North Korea.
A diplomatic source in Yanji said that the local government is busy with preparations to receive a guest. "It is highly likely that it would be Chairman Kim," the source said on condition of anonymity, referring to Kim by his title as chairman of the National Defense Commission.
If Kim goes to Yanji, it would be his first visit to the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture. Yanji is the prefecture's capital and Kim has never been there apparently out of concern it may raise the eyebrows of Chinese who are sensitive to ethnic issues.
The prefecture is a key part of China's economic development plan for the country's three northeastern provinces. China has been seeking to secure Pyongyang's permission to extend its use of a port in the North's northeastern port of Rajin, which would give China access to the East Sea, from the current 10 years.
Kim's possible visit to the Yanbian prefecture would be an indication that there has been progress in economic cooperation talks between the two countries. His visit could also show his support to allowing China to use more of the port and for a longer period of time.
It was Kim's second trip to China in about three months, an unusual move by the reclusive leader who rarely travels abroad. Kim's last visit to the neighboring country, Pyongyang's last-remaining ally, in May included talks with the Chinese president.
North Korea watchers said the latest journey, which came while former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was in Pyongyang to secure the release of a jailed American citizen, appears to be aimed at winning Beijing's diplomatic support for Kim's plan to hand over power to his third and youngest son, Jong-un, reportedly in his 20s.
Kim is said to have accelerated the succession process since he suffered a stroke in 2008.
By refusing to meet Carter and instead heading to China, Kim appears to have sought to show the strength of Pyongyang-Beijing ties and send a clear message that it will not bow to U.S. pressure, experts said.
Kim's trip to China has been shrouded in secrecy. A Japanese television camera captured a blurred image of Kim walking, guarded by security agents, out of a hotel in the Jilin province. It was unknown whether he was accompanied by his youngest son and heir apparent.
On the first day of the trip Thursday, Kim made a pilgrimage to an old Chinese school and a park in Jilin, which North Korea regards as a holy place for the anti-Japanese movement by Kim Il-sung, the North's late founding leader and father of the current leader. North Korea has spread propaganda that Kim Il-sung spearheaded Koreans' fight against Japan's colonial rule from 1910-45.
North Korea and China have not made public Kim's trip. It is customary for the two sides not to announce details of Kim's trips until he returns home, apparently due to security concerns.
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