North Korea's eminence grise Jang Song-taek made a sudden visit to Beijing on Monday afternoon, the highest-ranking North Korean official to go to China since former leader Kim Jong-il's death in December last year. Jang is the husband of new leader Kim Jong-un's aunt, the former leader's younger sister.
Jang is expected to stay in China for six days and will meet top Chinese leaders including President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. He will also likely meet Vice President Xi Jinping, tipped to become president at the upcoming Communist Party Congress in October.
Jang arrived in Beijing via Air China at 6:15 p.m. Monday. He has been put up at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse. "A delegation led by Jang left Pyongyang to attend the third session of the joint [North] Korea-China guidance committee on the development of special economic zones in Rajin-Sonbong and Hwanggumpyong and Wihwa islands to be held in Beijing," the official KCNA news agency reported earlier that day.
The committee first met in Pyongyang in November 2010 and for a second meeting in Dandong, near the border in June last year.
A diplomatic source in Beijing said the North Korean delegation consists of some 50 members. Jang and Chinese Minister of Commerce Chen Deming meet on Tuesday. On Wednesday and Thursday, Jang is expected to visit economic zones in the booming southern Chinese provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang, suggesting there is a heavy economic focus to the visit. He goes back to Beijing on Friday and returns to Pyongyang the following day.
Jang is in China for the first time since he accompanied Kim Jong-il on his last visit to China in May last year.