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N Korea's Kim Jong Il visited China

China and North Korea have confirmed that their leaders met while Kim Jong Il was on a secretive trip to China, but there were no signs of his son on what was suspected to be a visit to drum up support for a succession plan.

Though reporters and diplomats had tracked the reclusive North Korean dictator's travels by trying to spot his special train and motorcade through north-east China, the simultaneous dispatches from both countries' state media were the first official confirmation of Kim's five-day visit.

The releases likely signalled that the trip was over as both countries usually wait for Kim to return home before acknowledging his visits.

China Central Television showed footage on its main evening broadcast of a paunchy, 68-year-old Kim embracing Chinese President Hu Jintao on Friday in the north-east city of Changchun.

Not seen in the footage nor mentioned in other Chinese and North Korean media was Kim's third son and heir-apparent, Kim Jong Un, who was rumoured to have been part of the delegation. Foreign diplomats in Beijing briefed separately on the visit said Communist Party officials also did not say if the son was present.

Diplomats and analysts who follow the isolated, impoverished country have speculated that a goal of Kim's trip was to bolster support from China, North Korea's main benefactor, for his youngest son, ahead of a rare Workers' Party congress next month.

While the state media accounts did not mention Kim's son by name, the elder dictator did touch on North Korea's political transition, telling Chinese leaders that their successors should build upon the strong bonds the countries share.

Beijing's continued good will is crucial for North Korea since its ailing economy is unable to provide enough food for its people to survive. China provides food assistance and nearly all of North Korea's oil, and much of North Korea's trade passes through China.

Beijing has also provided diplomatic support, encouraging Kim to rejoin six-nation talks on ending North Korea's nuclear program and shielding the country from even harsher sanctions by the United Nations. China's Xinhua News Agency said Kim told Hu that North Korea hoped for an early resumption of the negotiations.


From Belfast Telegraph