Chinese officials say the reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is visiting their country for help with improving economic development in his destitute nation. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told Asian leaders meeting in Japan that Kim wants to learn how to replicate China's booming economy and fast-paced development.
Reports of Kim's unannounced visit to China began last Friday when he crossed into the country on in his private train. Since then, Chinese and international media have been trying to track where the leader is visiting.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao confirmed that the shy and eccentric leader is in China on a fact-finding mission - the third such trip in a little more than a year. Wen told South Korea’s president that Kim is seeking to boost economic ties.
The trip comes as leaders from Japan, China and South Korea are meeting in Tokyo to discuss cooperation in trade, security and nuclear safety issues. Officials agreed North Korea must become more trustworthy and show sincerity before the stalled six-nation talks on its nuclear program can resume.
The deputy director of the Center for Korean Studies at Fudan University, Cai Jian, says Kim also wants to smooth diplomatic ties with China after upsetting its closest ally last year with its deadly provocations with South Korea.
Cai says he believes the most important reasons for the visit are politics and diplomacy, and that Kim is seeking Beijing's continued backing.
Cai says at the same time the Chinese government also wants North Korea to adopt its mix of capitalist and authoritarian reform to make improvements in living conditions for North Koreans.
But Cai says the real question is whether the autocratic leader is willing to embark on such a fundamental change to North Korea’s state-directed economy. He says there is still division between the communist governments of Pyongyang and Beijing over how far to embrace Western-style economic reforms.
Chinese media say Kim visited southern China by train after a trip to China's northeast to discuss an economic development zone project. Some media claim his son and heir-apparent, Kim Jong-un, is with him, and they were both invited by China for the "educational" trip.
China fears a North Korean economic collapse could lead to refugees flooding across their shared northeast border.
North Korea is short of power, food and vital raw materials and under U.N. sanctions over its nuclear program.
Pyongyang relies heavily on aid and the central government has admitted it faces severe food shortages this year. Last month the U.N. World Food Program said it would launch emergency operations to feed an estimated three-and-a-half million people after a harsh winter.
The U.S. envoy for North Korean Human Rights heads to Pyongyang later this week to discuss food security.