- Associated Press - Monday, August 30, 2010

BEIJING | China and North Korea confirmed Monday that their leaders met while Kim Jong-il was on a secretive trip to China, but there were no signs of his son on what was suspected to be a visit to drum up support for a succession plan.

Though reporters and diplomats had tracked the reclusive North Korean dictator’s travels by trying to spot his special train and motorcade through northeastern China, the simultaneous dispatches from both countries’ state media were the first official confirmation of Mr. Kim’s five-day visit.

The releases likely signaled that the trip was over, as both countries usually wait for Mr. Kim to return home before acknowledging his visits.

China Central Television showed footage on its main evening broadcast of a paunchy, 68-year-old Mr. Kim embracing Chinese President Hu Jintao on Friday in the northeastern city of Changchun.

Not seen in the footage nor mentioned in other Chinese and North Korean media was Mr. Kim’s third son and heir-apparent, Kim Jong Eun, who was rumored to have been part of the delegation. Foreign diplomats in Beijing briefed separately on the visit said Communist Party officials also did not say if the son was present.

Diplomats and analysts who follow the isolated, impoverished country have speculated that a goal of Mr. Kim’s trip was to bolster support from China, North Korea’s main benefactor, for his youngest son, ahead of a rare Workers’ Party congress next month.

While the state media accounts did not mention Mr. Kim’s son by name, the dictator did touch on North Korea’s political transition, telling Chinese leaders that their successors should build upon the strong bonds the countries share.

“With the international situation remaining complicated, it is our important historical mission to hand over to the rising generation the baton of the traditional friendship passed over by the revolutionary forerunners of the two countries as a precious asset so as to carry it forward through generations,” the Korean Central News Agency quoted Mr. Kim as telling Mr. Hu in a banquet toast on Friday.

Beijing’s continued good will is crucial for North Korea because the latter’s ailing economy is unable to provide enough food for its people to survive. China provides food assistance and nearly all of North Korea’s oil, and much of North Korea’s trade passes through China.

Beijing also has provided diplomatic support, encouraging Mr. Kim to rejoin six-nation talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear program and shielding the country from even harsher sanctions by the United Nations. China’s Xinhua News Agency said Mr. Kim told Mr. Hu that North Korea hoped for an early resumption of the negotiations.

Those talks stalled when North Korea test-fired a long-range missile and exploded a nuclear device last year.

Prospects for restarting negotiations were undermined further after a South Korean warship sank in March, killing 46 sailors, and Seoul and Washington accused North Korea of torpedoing the vessel — a claim Pyongyang denies.

Officials from the International Liaison Department, the Communist Party office that handles China’s relations with North Korea, told diplomats from Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States that Mr. Kim’s visit had been arranged previously and focused largely on the economy, said Asian and Western diplomats.