North Korean leader Kim Jong-il visited a development zone in eastern China yesterday, media reports said, as he pursued a trip aimed at seeking answers for his nation’s crippled economy.
Kim, on his third visit to China in just over a year, toured the economic development zone in Yangzhou City near Shanghai, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said, citing unnamed sources.
North Korea watchers believe the latest trip by a man who rarely leaves his country reflects a dire need for help with severe economic problems and food shortages amid ongoing international sanctions over its nuclear ambitions.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) confirmed Kim’s visit for the first time on Sunday, telling South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in Tokyo that Kim wanted to study China’s vibrant economy, according to a Seoul official.
Kim may also visit the site of a joint industrial park on North Korea’s border with China on the way home, Yonhap said.
That would likely underscore a commitment to further economic cooperation with China, North Korea’s closest ally and main benefactor, Yonhap said.
The reclusive Stalinist ruler has traversed much of eastern China aboard his personal train and the trip is also widely viewed as intended to show he is healthy and firmly in charge.
Kim, 69, suffered a stroke in 2008 and has launched a succession plan involving his youngest son and heir apparent Kim Jong-un. It was not immediately clear if his son was part of his entourage in China.
His arrival in China on Friday came just ahead of a weekend summit in Tokyo between China, South Korea and Japan, which agreed North Korea must show sincerity before stalled six-nation talks on its nuclear program can resume.