Kim Jong-il Returns Home After China Visit

North Korea on Friday confirmed that Kim visited China this week but kept mum about whether he met with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao. Kim "paid an unofficial visit to China from May 3 to 7 at China's invitation," the North's official Korean Central News Agency said.

Kim began his fourth and final day in China by visiting a biotechnology complex on the outskirts of Beijing. He then returned to the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse and is said to have met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao over lunch.

He had been expected to watch the premiere of a North Korean version of the Chinese classic "Dream of the Red Mansion" by an opera troupe from the reclusive country but instead wrapped up his visit.

The entire trip covered a total distance of more than 2,500 km. Although he was seen still dragging his left leg due to a stroke in 2008, Kim managed to keep up the busy schedule, laying to rest speculation that his health is failing, according to experts. He visited Dalian, Tianjin and Beijing by train and car and stopped by ports and industrial sites in the three cities. He met with provincial government and business officials in Dalian and Tianjin and attended nearly five hours of talks and state banquets in Bejing.

An armored train allegedly carrying North Korean leader Kim Jong-il leaves Beijing on Thursday. /Reuters-Newsis An armored train allegedly carrying North Korean leader Kim Jong-il leaves Beijing on Thursday. /Reuters-Newsis

One purpose of Kim's trip seems to have been to demonstrate that he still has a firm enough grip on power to risk leaving his country. But the main goal was probably to beg economic aid from his country's ally as the North is in dire straits in the wake of a botched currency reform.

The Chinese leadership rolled out the red carpet for Kim, putting all their overseas appointments on hold to greet him. Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, widely expected to become China's next leader, accompanied Kim during his visit to the biotech complex, according to Japanese media reports. A diplomatic source in Beijing said, "Kim has achieved all his goals simply by successfully wrapping up his trip to China."

Diplomatic sources in Beijing claim China has agreed to provide North Korea with 100,000 tons of food and close to US$100 million in aid including basic necessities and energy. The 100,000 tons is more than one-third of the total amount of food North Korea imported from China last year and is enough, experts say, to deal with the immediate food shortage. Whether the price was a promise from Kim to return to six-party denuclearization talks will not be known until China makes some kind of official announcement.

Any such announcement would lack luster as South Korea and the U.S. are saying the talks should resume only after an investigation of the sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan is concluded.

englishnews@chosun.com / May 07, 2010 12:19 KST