A close aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un secretly visited China around June 10, it emerged Thursday.
The purpose of the visit by Ma Won-chun, the director of a new agency under the North's National Defense Commission overseeing the construction industry, is unclear. The agency was launched after the collapse of an apartment complex in Pyongyang in May.
The information comes from the website of Beijing Vocational College of Electronic Science, which said a 21-man North Korean delegation led by Ma visited the school library on the afternoon of June 10, escorted by Ri Kang-bong, a counselor at the North Korean Embassy in Beijing.
Ma is also deputy chief of the Workers Party's Finance and Accounting Department and supervised the construction of Kim's pet projects including a ski resort in Masikryong near Wonsan, Kangwon Province and Munsu amusement park.
Since Kim came into power, Ma has been assisting him at close range alongside Hwang Pyong-so, a deputy chief of the party's Organization and Guidance Department.
"Given Ma's political status, it's hard to believe that he was just in Beijing for a tour of the library of a vocational college," a source in Beijing said. "He must have discussed with Chinese officials ways to improve bilateral relations."