South Korean media are reporting that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is visiting China.
South Korean government sources on Friday initially said that Kim Jong Un had apparently crossed into China at the border city of Tumen. The unprecedented visit would allow him to make crucial personal connections in the country that is North Korea’s most important friend.
But later in the day, South Korean media, citing sources in Seoul and in China, said that Kim Jong Il had been spotted.
There was no information on whether the younger Kim was with his father.
Professor Yang Moo-jin at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul says China would be an obvious choice for the heir-apparent’s first official overseas trip.
He explains that Kim Jong Un is highly likely to be promised China’s firm support and cooperation on the succession plan. And there would be discussions about Chinese economic support, as well.
China, in addition to being North Korea’s most significant diplomatic ally, is the impoverished country’s primary source of food and other aid.
A spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry, Chun Hae-sung, says Seoul has been anticipating that the younger Kim, who is in his late 20’s would make such a trip.
Chun says the South Korean government is closely monitoring the situation, but since neither Beijing nor Pyongyang has publicly confirmed the visit the Unification Ministry cannot officially comment on it.
These types of official trips are usually confirmed by either China or North Korea only once the distinguished visitor has safely returned home.
The elder Kim, who is 69, is believed to have suffered a stroke two-and-a-half years ago.
Last September, Kim Jong Un was appointed to the second highest military post within North Korea’s only political party and given other senior positions. That was interpreted as the most significant indication that he is poised to eventually succeed his father.
Kim Jong Il also succeeded his father, Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s founder.
In recent months, Pyongyang has made an urgent appeal for international aid. South Korea has said it will only resume significant aid after North Korea apologizes for last year’s sinking of one of its warships and the shelling of a frontier island.
North Korea denies attacking the South Korean naval vessel and says that the island bombardment was an act of self-defense during a provocative South Korean military exercise involving disputed waters.