News / Asia

China Remains Silent on Possible Kim Jong Il Visit

The Chinese government maintains silence about reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is in China. News organizations, including Chinese media, report heavy security and high-level motorcades in a northeastern Chinese city where Mr. Kim is believed to be visiting.

Television news Friday showed a 30-car motorcade, believed to be Kim Jong Il's, zooming through the northeastern city of Jilin, and signs of increased security there.

The Foreign Ministry has not confirmed reports that the North Korean leader has been visiting China.

News reports say Mr. Kim brought his son and heir apparent Kim Jong Un.

Nicholas Thomas, Asian studies professor at Hong Kong's City University, says he thinks Chinese leaders would want to get a sense of Mr. Kim's successor. "China is only willing to support North Korea so long as North Korean actions do not present a destabilizing effect for China on its periphery. And I think that is part of the getting-to-know-you approach with this transition," Thomas said.

Mr. Kim left Pyongyang while former President Jimmy Carter was there on a private trip to seek the release of an imprisoned American.

Even though President Carter's trip was unofficial, Thomas says the timing of Mr. Kim's trip could have been intentional, to give North Korean policymakers time to define their position regarding the United States.

Thomas thinks Mr. Kim is seeking China's help because of U.S. sanctions imposed against North Korea following accusations that it was behind the sinking of a South Korean ship earlier this year. "And beyond that, how China could help North Korea come to a direct negotiation with Washington, which is ultimately their Holy Grail. That is what they really want, a direct negotiation with Washington, a direct peace treaty," Thomas stated.

The United States and North Korea were on opposing sides during the three-year Korean War, which ended in 1953 without a formal peace treaty.

China is North Korea's largest supporter, both financially and diplomatically. Chinese media have reported that Mr. Kim is believed to be in China, but as in the past, no government official has publicly confirmed his presence.

President Carter flew to back to the United States Friday, accompanied by Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who had been jailed since January for entering North Korea illegally.

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