SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s official media confirmed today leader Kim Jong-il had visited China while a report in a South Korean daily said he pledged to return to stalled international talks on ending his atomic ambitions.
The North’s KCNA news agency said Kim visited China’s industrial centres of Dalian and Tianjin but its first report on the journey made no mention of whether he had gone to Beijing to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao for a summit with his impoverished state’s biggest benefactor.
The North’s media usually does not report on Kim’s rare trips abroad until he has safely returned home, which indicates he was back in Pyongyang from a visit started on Monday when his special armored train crossed into China.
Kim told Hu at a meeting in Beijing that his country was prepared to return to stalled nuclear disarmament talks, South Korea’s JoongAng Daily quoted various sources as saying.
Kim, seen by media in China with thinning hair and a limp, was taking his first trip abroad since a suspected stroke in 2008 in a visit seen as an attempt to win economic aid after his country slid deeper into trouble after being hit by UN sanctions for last year’s nuclear test.
“Party and state leaders and people of China accorded with utmost sincerity warm welcome and cordial hospitality to leader Kim Jong-il who visited China again for boosting the DPRK-China friendship,” the North’s official KCNA news agency said.
DPRK is short for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Kim had been reported to have reached Beijing on Wednesday for talks with Hu focused on Beijing’s help for propping up his country’s crumbling economy in return for a pledge to return to the nuclear disarmament talks that it had boycotted since 2008.
China hosts the talks which include South Korea, the United States, Japan and Russia.
Kim’s visit had “disappointed” Seoul, unhappy that China had rolled out the red carpet just weeks after the sinking of a South Korean warship in a deadly attack widely thought to have been launched by the North, a senior official in Seoul told Reuters.