North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

KJI in China

KJI in Dalian, May 2010 (Photo: KBS)

NYT/IHT’s Choe Sang-hun reports on KJI’s arrival in Dalian:

KBS television of South Korea broadcast what it said was footage of Mr. Kim at a hotel in Dalian, China, wearing his trademark khaki outfit and dark sunglasses and surrounded by security agents. The Japanese news agency Kyodo also carried photos of Mr. Kim getting into a car in front of the hotel.

The visit would be Mr. Kim’s first to China in four years and the first time he has left North Korea since he was reported to have suffered a stroke in 2008.

KJI's railway station near his #22 Residence in Ryongsong District, Pyongyang

Yonhap’s Byun Duk-kun reports on alleged KJI sightings and police activity:

A convoy of 15 limousines was later seen arriving at a hotel in Dalian, shortly after the North Korean train arrived.

Traffic in the city was halted for nearly an hour until the convoy arrived at the hotel.

Earlier, the 17-carriage train arrived in the border city of Dandong around 5:20 a.m. (local time) Monday, one day after diplomatic sources here and in China said Kim’s trip was imminent.

All regular passenger trains from North Korea to Dandong arrive in the afternoon and usually have only four or five coaches.

Kim has visited China four times since 2000, by train every time. He is said to be afraid of flying.

Kim’s presence in China could not be officially confirmed, but a source in Dalian said he saw the North Korean leader at Dalian’s Furama Hotel.

The hotel was closed to regular guests, and the source said the North Korean delegates had an entire wing of the hotel reserved until 7 p.m. Tuesday.

A local resident in Dalian also quoted a police officer there as saying that the earlier traffic control was due to Kim’s arrival in the Chinese city.

Meanwhile, KimYoung-gyo reports on the arrival of the country’s Phibada Opera Troupe, who are scheduled to perform a four-day run of A Dream of Red Mansions in Beijing this week.  Here is a link to the slide show of the photos mentioned below.

The photos feature female performers dressed in colorful Korean traditional attire.

The train is estimated to have arrived early Monday in Beijing, as it takes around 10 hours to go from the border city of Dandong to Beijing.

The North Korean version of the opera reportedly debuted in the North last year as part of celebrations marking 60 years of diplomatic relations between the two allies.
Meanwhile, sources in Seoul and Beijing said Kim has reportedly arrived in China by train early Monday morning.

The North Korean leader, if indeed in China, is expected to reach Beijing within days for a summit with the Chinese president.

Korea Herald and Korea Times both offer reports about KJI’s trip to China, and the rationale behind it.  In KH Kim Ji-hyun reports:

Some, however, predicted that Kim may be seeking to talk things over with China over growing suspicion from Seoul that the North masterminded the sinking of a South Korean warship in late March.

Seoul has launched an investigation to get to the bottom of the sudden explosion on the night of March 26 that left 46 sailors dead or missing.

“It would be politically and diplomatically difficult to get into a discussion on the Cheonan, both for the North and China,” said Baek Seung-joo, a North Korean specialist at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.

China has traditionally been a close ally to North Korea, but it also is chair of the stalled six-way talks that the North has been boycotting since April last year.

China also has the South Korean government to consider, especially since it was just last week that Hu met with President Lee Myung-bak to discuss urgent regional issues that no doubt included North Korea.

Pyongyang currently denies its involvement in the Cheonan’s sinking, but a large number of experts here — including government officials such as the defense minister — believe the North was seeking revenge for a defeat it suffered in November last year during another inter-Korean naval battle.

In KT Kim Young-jin reports:

Kim is making the stop in Dalian, as some analysts say it may be connected to Pyongyang’s plan to develop its own port, Rajin.

Rumors of such a trip have been spreading for months.

Speculation peaked in early April, when experts predicted he would meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and leverage a return to the six-party talks on the North’s denuclearization in return for economic aid.

Prospects for the resumption of the talks were thrown into limbo by suspicions the North was behind the March 26 sinking of the South Korean Navy ship Cheonan, which went down near the highly-contested maritime border between the two Koreas.

Seoul has said a close-range torpedo explosion was the likely cause of the sinking, causing speculation of North Korean culpability. The North has denied any involvement in the incident.

If the findings of an ongoing multi-national investigation point to Pyongyang, Seoul’s Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan has said the issue could be taken before the U.N. Security Council.

Such a move could lead to further sanctions for the struggling state – but only if China, a permanent member of the council and the North’s biggest economic backer, were to agree to the measure.

Yonhap reports that it is highly likely Kim Jong Il has entered China:

“We have confirmed the arrival of a special train at Dandong, and we believe it is highly likely that Chairman Kim was on board,” an official in Seoul said, referring to the North Korean leader by his official title as the head of the National Defense Commission.

The government is trying to confirm details, the official added.

The 17-carriage train arrived in Dandong around 5:20 a.m. (local time) Monday, one day after diplomatic sources here and in the Chinese city said Kim’s trip to China was imminent.

A diplomatic source in Beijing said Kim did arrive in China early Monday and was heading to Dalian.

“It is extremely rare to see a 17-carriage North Korean train come into China,” the source said, asking not to be identified.

All regular passenger trains from North Korea to Dandong arrive in the afternoon and usually have only four or five coaches.

Some 200 Chinese police officers tightly surrounded the train station in Dandong early Monday, and the entire road in front of the station was blocked off to traffic ahead of the train’s arrival. The blockade was taken down around 6:30 a.m.

It was not clear whether or why Kim would head to Dalian as his first stop. Watchers say it may have to do with North Korea’s plan to develop its own port, Rajin.

Here are a couple of shots of KJI’s train (or one of them) from a propaganda film on his trip to Russia in 2002

KBS carries an unconfirmed report from YTN that KJI’s train crossed the DPRK-China border:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has reportedly crossed the Sino-North Korea border on a visit to China.

Seoul-based all-news cable channel YTN quoted a senior South Korean official as saying that a special train carrying the North Korean leader crossed a border bridge over the Amnok River (Yalu River) into Dandong at around 5:30 pm on Sunday. But the official did not give any details, including Kim’s current location.

KBS TV also reported that Kim’s visit to China was imminent. Quoting multiple South Korean sources, KBS said that considerable preparations for Kim’s visit were being made and that his visit would likely come on Sunday or Monday.

Yonhap citing an anonymous source claims that Kim Jong Il will arrive in China in the next few days.

The North’s leader “has not crossed into China yet, but it appears highly likely that his Chinese trip would come either today or tomorrow as a considerable level of preparations have been done,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

The source did not provide specifics.

If realized, Kim’s long-speculated trip to China had been expected to raise the prospects of reopening six-nation talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear programs. But such chances were thrown into doubt in the wake of the sinking of a South Korean naval ship in waters near North Korea.

Meanwhile JoongAng reports about possible preparations in the area:

“We have seen some signs and we are now closely monitoring the situation,” the official said.

A diplomatic source in China’s border city of Dandong said the Chinese police have ordered hotels there to empty their facilities and beefed up security for three days starting on Saturday.

Some of the hotels in the city are considered good observation posts for foreign journalists when the North Korean leader crosses the border by train.

One of the hotels, which commands an excellent view of the cross-border railway over the Yalu River, has been told to evict all its guests and cancel all reservations, the source said.

Kim’s long-speculated trip to China had been expected to raise the prospects of reopening six-nation talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear programs. But such chances were thrown into doubt in the wake of the sinking of a South Korean naval ship in waters near North Korea.

This seems to be the monthly rumor/speculation of KJI visiting China.  The ROK press were atwitter in early April that KJI would travel to China.  Freight trains were confused for KJI’s customized coach.  Different KWP managers and NK diploreps visited Beijing.  Kim Jong Il seemed to tease the speculation in April.  At the beginning of the month, he hosted the new Chinese Ambassador twice in the same week.  He also made a point of appearing with security managers such as MSC chief Gen Kim Won Hong, and MOFA bosses Kang Sok Ju.  In mid-April Yonhap reported that Jon Il Chun, deputy director of Office #39 and chief executive of the DPRK Taepung International Investment Group and State Development Bank, had traveled to Beijing to secure investments prior to KJI’s arrival.

By the end of April, it was the Japanese press reporting about KJI traveling to China.  Asahi Shimbun reported about a trip to Beijing by KJI’s Chinese interpreter and KWP International Department manager, Kim Song Nam, and the possible presence of Choe Pyong Ryul, who is director of the Office of Adjutants in the Personal Secretariat which manages KJI’s logistical and security needs.

An affiliate of 38 North