North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has the world guessing on his movements during a highly secretive trip to China, but analysts say the economic and geopolitical goals of his visit are clear.
Kim is in China to determine whether the US may consider altering its hardline policies against Pyongyang, especially in the six-party nuclear forum and to look at potential economic reforms for his starving nation, they said.
Stephen Noerper, a Northeast Asia expert from the University of New York, said Kim was also likely making a statement that he had a friend in the Chinese leadership, one of North Korea's few international allies.
This was especially important for North Korea as it struggled against the US in the six-party talks aimed at having Pyongyang disband its nuclear program. The talks also include China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.
"From a geopolitical perspective, it shows they [North Korea] have something of a special relationship with China," Noerper said.
"During a period of very difficult negotiations with the US [in the six-party forum], it shows that there are those who are willing to talk and engage."
While the Chinese government continues its policy of refusing to confirm Kim's visit, various media reports across Asia have suggested he has either met, or will meet, with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) to discuss nuclear issues.
The six-party talks, which are hosted by China, reached a landmark agreement in September last year to peacefully scrap all of Pyongyang's nuclear programs.
But the negotiations have since broken down, with North Korea refusing to participate in further rounds until the US lifts financial sanctions over money laundering accusations.
Cui Yingjiu (崔英九), a retired policy expert at the North Korea Cultural Research Institute of Beijing University, said that Kim would want to consult with Chinese leaders on US policies in relation to the six-party talks.
"Kim is not convinced that the US has a new non-hostile policy on North Korea," Cui said.
While toeing the government line that Kim's presence in China had not been confirmed, Cui said Kim would be trying to assess from the Chinese whether or not the US may be willing to budge on the sanctions issue.
"Kim won't want to re-engage in the talks unless he is certain that the US and Japan will want to move forward in these areas and make progress in the talks," he said.
Economic reform separate from the nuclear issue would also be high on his agenda, as evidenced by his time spent in the southern province of Guangdong, one of the nation's most prosperous regions, Cui and Noerper said.
"In Guangzhou, he would take a look at an area of China that appears to be making the most progress in terms of the economy," Noerper said.
"He seems to be continuing to want to take a look at the Chinese system, not for [political] reforms, but for what structural changes are necessary by way of economic modernization."
Indeed, Kim's movements on his current trip, which reportedly began on Tuesday last week when he crossed from North Korea on his own train, appear to follow a similar pattern to his three previous visits to China.
Kim made a point on his earlier trips, the last of which was in April 2004, of visiting China's economic hub of Shanghai, as well as other regions of economic development.