Beijing/Seoul : North Korean leader Kim Jong Il arrived in China on a rare trip abroad early Monday, Japanese and South Korean media reported.
A photograph from Japan’s Kyodo news agency showed the reclusive Kim standing near a saluting Chinese paramilitary policeman.
The agency said the picture and three similar ones were taken outside a hotel in the north-eastern Chinese port city of Dalian Monday.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted officials in Seoul and Beijing as saying Kim arrived on a 17-carriage train via the Chinese border city of Dandong at 5:20 a.m. and headed to Dalian.
“We have confirmed the arrival of a special train at Dandong, and we believe it is highly likely that Chairman Kim was on board,” an official in Seoul said. Kim Jong Il’s official title is head of the National Defence Commission.
Yonhap cited a diplomat source in Beijing as confirming Kim’s arrival.
It said a convoy of 15 limousines was later seen arriving at the luxury Furama Hotel in Dalian.
A reservation manager at the hotel told DPA by telephone that the hotel was “fully booked” Monday and Tuesday.
When asked if the hotel had been booked for a special guest, the manager said: “I don’t know. You’ll have to try another hotel”.
Kim’s trip comes at a time of rising tension between the two Koreas, amid speculation that Pyongyang had its hand in the March 26 sinking of a South Korean warship.
Beijing appeared to be following its normal protocol of not confirming visits by the North Korean leader until he has left the country.
Some state media reported the visit but quoted Yonhap as their source.
Dalian has links to Rajin, the north-eastern North Korean port that is seen as a flagship of North Korea’s tentative efforts to reform its economy.
A Dalian-based Chinese company has invested 26 million yuan ($3.8 million) in the reconstruction of the Rajin Port No 1 Pier for use by Chinese ships, China’s Global Times newspaper reported last month.
North Korea plans to develop Rajin, also known as Rason, into a “north-east Asian logistics centre, trade centre, tourism centre and an international industry zone, based on its excellent harbour,” Jin Hualin, an expert on North Korea’s economy at Yanbian University, told the newspaper.
“Rason’s mayor has also said that as long as an action is good for the country, he’s empowered by North Korean leaders to do it,” Jin was quoted as saying.
China’s ruling Communist Party declared Dalian an open city in 1984 as the government was beginning reforms after decades of Soviet-style economic planning.
Kim has visited China four times since 2000. The North Korean dictator is said to travel only by train as he is afraid of flying.
Western powers hope his latest visit could revive international talks to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme.
Kim’s trip also coincides with bilateral celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the start of China’s alliance with North Korea in the 1950-53 Korean War.
Another special train arrived in Dandong Sunday carrying a 198-strong North Korean dance troupe scheduled to stage performances in Beijing this week to mark the anniversary, the semi-official China News Service reported.
China’s People’s Liberation Army was also sending a delegation of relatives of “martyrs of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army” to North Korea this week to mark the anniversary, the official Xinhua news agency reported Monday.