- Associated Press - Sunday, August 29, 2010

CHANGCHUN, China (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong-il apparently toured several Chinese border cities Sunday while on a secretive trip reportedly aimed at drumming up support for a succession plan involving his youngest son.

Reporters have followed a 35-vehicle motorcade — apparently used by the reclusive Mr. Kim — around several cities in northeast China.

Mr. Kim is believed to have visited Yanbian, a Korean autonomous prefecture in the far northeastern Chinese province of Jilin bordering North Korea, and then Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang province, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported Sunday, citing an unidentified source in Beijing.

It said Mr. Kim likely would depart from Harbin later Sunday or early Monday.

Mr. Kim, who at 68 is believed to be ailing, rarely leaves North Korea, and when he does, he travels by special train.

North Korea does not announce Kim’s trips until after he returns home, and China has refused to say whether he is in the country, even though a Japanese television station had a grainy picture of him.

Mr. Kim reportedly was accompanied by his son, Kim Jong-un, believed to be in his 20s. Many North Korea watchers predict the son will be appointed to a key party position at a ruling Workers’ Party meeting early next month — the first such gathering in decades — as part of a succession process.

To pull off the event with sufficient fanfare, North Korea will need Chinese aid, particularly following the devastating floods that battered the country’s northwest this month, analysts said.

South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper and Yonhap both reported that Mr. Kim is believed to have met Chinese President Hu Jintao in the city of Changchun on Friday. The Dong-a Ilbo newspaper said the two are thought to have discussed the North’s succession, the resumption of six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear program and ways to strengthen bilateral economic cooperation.

Mr. Kim also badly needs Chinese aid because of flooding earlier this month that damaged or destroyed more than 7,000 homes, and inundated 17,800 acres of farmland close to the border with China, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported this week.

KCNA said China already has agreed to deliver some aid to help North Korea cope with the disaster but didn’t give specifics.

Mr. Kim’s visits Sunday may be related to China’s plans to develop its northeastern regions, Yonhap speculated. It said China wants to continue using North Korea’s port of Rajin and hopes to obtain permission to use other ports as well.

The North faces chronic food shortages and has relied on outside aid to feed many of its 24 million people since a famine that is believed to have killed as many as 2 million people in the 1990s.

In an attempt to improve its meager economy, it has experimented with limited market reforms and sought foreign investment, mostly from China and South Korea. But tensions with the South have caused trade and joint economic projects with the South to wither and raised the importance of ties to Beijing.

Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Scott McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report.


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