North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, currently on his seventh visit to China, has been on an unprecedentedly busy schedule. He normally stays one night in each city he visits, but this time, he travelled 3,000 km for three days and two nights on his special armored train.
On Sunday he arrived in Yangzhou, the hometown of former Chinese President Jiang Zemin who is still a powerful figure behind the scenes. Kim is believed to have met with Jiang there and asked for Chinese aid, economic cooperation and support for the succession of his son Jong-un.
The reason Kim manages such long trips is that the train is lavishly equipped. It has a conference room, an audience chamber and luxurious bedrooms. According to South Korean and U.S. intelligence, satellite phone connections and flat-screen TVs are installed so that the North Korean leader can be briefed and issue orders. Four carriages in the 20-carriage train are allotted for medical staff and equipment.
Kim is believed to suffer from chronic renal failure, so the train also reportedly has dialysis equipment. A South Korean government official said, "No matter how comfortable the train may be, a long train journey isn’t easy for a man over 70. It seems that one of the objectives of this trip is to demonstrate that he is fit."
While Kim briefly stopped at hotels in Mudanjiang and Changchun on Friday and Saturday, an ambulance was seen entering the hotel, suggesting his health is constantly being monitored.
In Yangzhou, police were everywhere. Public access to the state guest house in Yangzhou along the shore of touristy Shouxi, or Slender West Lake, was banned. On Saturday, Kim visited the Changchun-based First Automobile Works Group, one of the top two carmakers in China alongside Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation. There are rumors that FAW Group will invest in the Rajin-Sonbong special economic zone in North Korea. A Hongqi sedan, FAW's top brand, was given to Kim as a gift.