Mon, Jan 16, 2006 - Page 5 News List

More clues suggest Kim in PRC

UNCONFIRMED SIGHTINGS The reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-il may be in China to look at ways to improve the dire economic situation in his homeland


Secretive North Korean leader Kim Jong-il reportedly began another day of tours of high-tech companies in southern China yesterday, part of what could be a trip to study reforms to boost his country's decrepit economy.

Neither side has confirmed Kim's visit to China, which reportedly has included stops in Guangzhou, the mainland's southern business capital, and Shenzhen, a technology center that borders Hong Kong.

South Korea's Yonhap News Agency said Kim had planned on Saturday to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao, who was in Xiamen, a coastal city northeast of Shenzhen and a short flight from Guangzhou.

Yesterday, the front pages of Chinese newspapers showed pictures of Hu shaking hands with representatives of Taiwanese businesses in Xiamen. No mention was made of Kim or a meeting with him.

Beijing is under pressure from Washington to use its influence as Pyongyang's last main ally to restart six-nation talks aimed at eliminating the isolated North's nuclear programs.

Talks have stalled over North Korea's anger at US-imposed sanctions for alleged counterfeiting and other wrongdoing by the North.

In September, negotiators announced a breakthrough when Pyongyang pledged to give up its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security assurances. Follow-up negotiations have gone nowhere.

Japan's Kyodo News agency said Kim left a hotel in Shenzhen yesterday to continue his tour, which would include a visit to port facilities.

A woman at the reservation desk of the Wuzhou Guest House, where Yonhap said Kim was staying, said vacant rooms were hard to come by because of ``business meetings'' that were being held there. She hung up when asked about Kim.

The Shenzhen traffic police office said the area outside was closed off to traffic yesterday morning. A woman who answered the telephone at the office said it was ``not clear'' why the measures were being taken and refused to give her name.

A duty officer at the city government said he had not received any information on a visit by Kim.

Media speculation has run the gamut since Tuesday, when the North Korean leader's armored train reportedly crossed into China. At one point, he was also said to have been in Russia.

Japan's NTV and TBS networks broadcast what they said were scenes of Kim's motorcade in Guangzhou and him aboard a boat on the city's Pearl River.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK on Saturday showed a figure believed to be Kim walking around a hotel entrance in Shenzhen. In other footage, NHK showed what appeared to be Kim seated at a table in a banquet hall.

The North's state-run economy has been crippled by widespread hunger and the end of Soviet subsidies in the early 1990s.

North Korea has allowed small farmers' markets and other modest reforms. But Beijing has been pushing for more changes in an effort to revive the economy and reduce its reliance on Chinese aid.

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