North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Kim Jong Il Continues

A special train believed to be used by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is seen at a train station in Changchun, northeastern China, on May 21. (Yonhap)

Kim Cho’ng-il’s trip to the PRC continued into its second day in Changchun.  In a brief six-hour trip through the city KCI visited a car factory, according to Yonhap News Agency.  His train departed during the early afternoon on 21 May [Saturday] and he was initially believed to be bound for Shenyang.  However, Kim Cho’ng-il bypassed Shenyang and may be headed directly to Beijing.  Yonhap reports:

A special train carrying North Korean leader Kim Jong-il headed southwest Saturday after passing through this industrial city, raising speculation that he may have a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing, sources said.

Kim, who left Changchun, an industrial city in northeastern China, earlier Saturday, had been expected to stop over in Shenyang for inspection of industrial facilities. However, his train passed through the city’s train station at around 7 p.m. and sped away in the direction of Beijing, said multiple sources, who all spoke on the condition of anonymity.

A train trip between Shenyang and Beijing usually takes six to seven hours, which means that the reclusive North Korean leader may arrive in the Chinese capital early Sunday morning, if it is his next destination.

Kim toured a car plant Saturday morning in Changchun, the second stop on his secretive trip to China.

KBS reports about Kim Cho’ng-il’s stop in Mudanjiang on 20 May [Friday]:

The special train was seen leaving Mudanjiang City in Heilongjiang Province at 9:10 p.m. Friday and passing through Harbin, China past midnight.

On Friday afternoon in Mudanjang, Kim and his entourage visited a site where his father and North Korean founder Kim Il-sung was known to have fought against Japanese colonial rulers.

Later, they attended a welcome party hosted by Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo in a hotel in Mudanjang, which began at 7 p.m.

A motorcade of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in downtown Changchun, northeastern China, on May 21. (Yonhap)

JoongAng Ilbo reports on Kim Cho’ng-il’s arrival in the PRC and the circumstances around this recent visit:

A special train likely carrying North Korean leader Kim Jong-il arrived in China via Tumen, a northeastern Chinese border city, at 6:20 a.m. yesterday [20 May] local time, according to a source.

The visit, which, if confirmed, would be Kim’s first trip to the North’s closest ally in nine months, came unexpectedly. Initially, his son and heir-apparent Kim Jong-un was thought to be in the train, not Kim Jong-il. Whether Kim Jong-un was accompanying his father on the trip is yet to be confirmed.

The source said the train crossed the border from Namyang, North Hamgyong, passed Tumen in Jilin Province, and is believed to have arrived in Mudanjiang, Heilongjiang Province.

“It seems almost certain that Kim Jong-il was witnessed in a hotel in Mudanjiang,” the source said, speaking of an MBC report that Kim Jong-il was seen in northeastern Chinese city.

When a special train trip by a North Korean figure was observed earlier in the day, local media speculated that it was an entourage for Kim Jong-un because the trip came amid widespread expectation of his visit to China.

A potential visit to China by Kim Jong-un – which some speculated would be a closing touch on the second-generation hereditary power succession for the reclusive regime – was suspected to be imminent when about 20 North Korean special agents, believed to be preparing for a high-profile North Korean figure to visit to China, were detected arriving in China in early May.

Chinese envoys visiting Pyongyang in recent months, including State Councilor Dai Bingguo and Minister of Public Security Meng Jianzhu, were known to have delivered a message from Chinese President Hu Jintao to invite North Korean leaders to China. That invitation was believed by local analysts to be for Kim Jong-un.

“We have been closely watching Kim Jong-un’s possible visit to China after China was known to have made an invitation,” Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said at a media briefing yesterday.

But Chun did not confirm Kim Jong-un’s visit to China, citing no official announcement from the North or China.

The surprise visit by Kim Jong-il, his third trip in a year, would include another pilgrimage, given the expected itinerary, observers speculated.

Entering China via Tumen was a new choice for Kim, although he chose the city as a route to return to the North after his trip to China last August.

A view of Kim Cho'ng-il's route through China, as of 21 May 2011. The red line indicates a rail route through cities he was reported to have visited or passed as of 21 May 2011. The blue line indicates a projected route to Beijing via Shenyang, however Kim Cho'ng-il traveled southeast to Yangzhou between 21 and 22 May 2011 (Photo: Google image)

Kim Cho’ng-il is visiting China.  Images of him outside a hotel in Mudanjiang, Heilongjiang Province in the PRC northeast on 20 May 2011 [Friday] appeared in ROK media, according to Kyodo News Agency.  Kim Cho’ng-il’s last reported public appearance was a guidance tour of two fruit farms in South Hamgyo’ng Province, reported around 18 May, one day after KCI met with Mikhail Fradkov on 17 May [Tuesday].  Kim Cho’ng-il previously traveled to China during the last week of August 2010, when he also visited the northeast.  He also traveled to the PRC during May 2010.

There were some indications that a member of the central leadership would travel to the PRC in May.  DPRK Ambassador to the PRC Chi Chae-ryong (Jae Jae Ryong) conducted several meetings with Chinese officials, including Xi Jinping.  A group of elite DPRK performers departed the country for a three month tour of China.  JoongAng Ilbo reported in earlier this month that a delegation of DPRK security officials visited Beijing.

It is not yet clear if Kim Cho’ng-u’n (Kim Jong Un) was traveling with his father, but one presumes (thumbs up) KCI has bigger fish (or cadres?) to fry.

An affiliate of 38 North