North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is being unprecedentedly visible during his current trip to his country's main ally China. Kim chose the Furama Hotel in downtown Dalian for his first stopover. The city's leading hotel, it has housed foreign leaders, politicians, entrepreneurs, business leaders, and academics whenever international events, including summer Davos Forum, are held.
Exposure is hard to avoid there because the hotel is on a main street in the commercial district. Room reservations for ordinary guests have been temporarily suspended, but unexpectedly there was no restriction to the entry and exit of visitors to the lobby.
Experts had predicted Kim would stay would stay at a hotel in Bangchuidao, a favorite resort area among China's top leaders, which is about 5 km from the downtown area.
Kim also publicly ventured out of the hotel three times, taking with him a convoy of about 40 vehicles for protocol and security reasons. During his earlier visits, he tried to avoid exposure as much as possible by reducing the number of vehicles.
His attendance at a welcome dinner hosted by the Chinese government at its guest house in Bangchuidao on Monday evening and his visit to the Dalian Economic and Technological Development Zone and port facilities the following day were in effect public events.
It was nothing like what anyone had expected. Experts had predicted Kim would stay in China for three quiet days in view of the difficulties he faces at home and abroad.
Given that he stayed in Dalian for two days before setting off for Beijing, it seems that his entire stay will be five or six days. There is now also speculation that Kim will watch a performance of the Chinese classic "Dream of the Red Mansion" by the North's Phibada Opera Troupe, which will start in Beijing on Thursday, alongside Chinese leaders.
In 2000, when he visited China for the first time since his inauguration, Kim returned to Pyongyang after a three-day visit, and he also stayed only briefly in 2004, when his regime's nuclear development heated up international debate.
Diplomats in Beijing speculate that Kim is attempting to show off that he is healthy and in control, trying to put to rest widespread rumors that he has lost ground at home due to economic difficulties since the botched currency reform. He may also be trying to brave international censure over the North’s suspected of involvement in the sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan on March 26.
A foreign policy analyst based in Beijing said, "Kim apparently wants to show off the outside world that he is in control of the domestic and international situation."
In Dalian, northern China's logistics and financial center, Kim met Chinese businessmen and toured port and other facilities in an apparent attempt to invite China's investment to his impoverished country.
A North Korean source in Beijing said, "Kim's moves in Dalian are a kind of sales diplomacy to lure investment for the Rajin-Sonbong Port, but whether private Chinese investors who suffered considerable losses from their investment in the North in the past will readily decide to invest there again is uncertain."