North Korea's Leader Said To Be In China

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is believed to be on the second day of a highly secretive trip to China. The trip comes as relations between North and South Korea are tense and the North's economy in tatters. As with Kim's four previous trips to China, Beijing will probably not confirm the visit until Kim has left.

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It is a poorly guarded secret that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il is visiting China. The trip comes as relations between North and South Korea are tense and the North's economy is in tatters. NPR's Anthony Kuhn has more from Beijing.

ANTHONY KUHN: As with Kim's four previous trips to China, Beijing will probably not confirm the visit until Kim has left. Beijing and Washington have made it clear they'd like Kim to agree to resume stalled nuclear disarmament talks.

But Daniel Pinkston, a Seoul-based analyst with the International Crisis Group, notes that Kim's visit comes amid rising suspicions that North Korea is behind the sinking of a South Korean Navy ship called the Cheonan in March.

Mr. DANIEL PINKSTON (Analyst, International Crisis Group): I know the Chinese have put a lot of work into making a six party talks meeting take place, but of course the Cheonan incident is lurking in the background. And until the South Koreans finish their investigation and feel like sitting down, I think it's going to take a little bit of time.

KUHN: South Korean media report that Kim Jong-Il spent today in the northeastern city of Dalian before heading to Beijing to meet with Chinese leaders.

Dalian's bustling ports and industrial parks are just the sort of places China has shown Kim in the past - to prod him towards reforming his country's stagnant economy. Pinkston says tense relations with South Korea could strengthen China's position as North Korea's economic patron.

Mr. PINKSTON: With economic ties with the South being reduced, severed, or reversed, North Korea has been looking to China more and more for economic cooperation. We've seen a number of concessionary deals with the Chinese where they've been granted access to ports or mining facilities, department stores, things like that.

KUHN: Many observers are looking to see whether Kim Jong-Il brought his son and heir-apparent Kim Jong-Un along on the trip. Lu Chao, director of the Borders Studies Institute at the Liaoning Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, says that in any event China can't appear to be meddling in its neighbors' domestic politics.

Mr. LU CHAO (Liaoning Provincial Academy of Social Sciences): (Through translator) China cannot interfere in the selection of a successor. If the North Koreans have selected a successor and they inform China of it, then that's normal. But as for talk of the North Koreans seeking China's opinion and assistance, I think that's impossible.

KUHN: Pessimistic analysts dismiss Kim's visit to China as a tactical ploy to defuse international pressure. The more optimistic reading is that Kim has nowhere else to turn for help and sooner or later he'll have to follow China's model of opening and reform.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

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