North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (Yonhap News)
‘Whereabouts of heir unconfirmed’
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il appears to be visiting China, a senior Seoul official said Friday, adding it was not confirmed whether he was accompanied by his son and heir apparent Jong-un.
“The current trip to China is being led by Kim Jong-il. We believe his third son Jong-un is not part of the delegation,” an official at the presidential office here said on the condition of anonymity.
Korea’s news cable channel YTN quoted an unidentified presidential official as saying Kim senior was seen at a hotel in Mudanjiang. MBC television also said Kim Jong-il was seen entering a building in the Chinese city.
Earlier Korean media reports mentioned a visit by Jong-un, saying his special train arrived in the Chinese border city of Tumen early Friday. Seoul’s Yonhap news agency had reported earlier in the day that Pyongyang’s young leader-to-be Kim Jong-un was visiting China alone, quoting an unnamed source in China.
The sole visit to China by Jong-un, the third and the youngest son of North Korea’s incumbent leader, would have been the clearest indication of Beijing’s approval over Pyongyang’s hereditary power transition.
A train carrying the North Korean delegation arrived in the Chinese border city of Tumen in Jilin province early Friday morning, and then appeared to be heading to Mudanjiang in northeast China, the source said.
The Unification Ministry here, which oversees affairs with North Korea, declined to make an official comment until the trip was fully confirmed.
The visit to China by the North Korean dictator comes as regional powers are escalating discussions over how to resume the multinational talks on Pyongyang’s denuclearization.
China, host of the six-nation denuclearization talks, has been striving to get the two Koreas to hold nuclear talks as the first step in restarting larger-scale negotiations. The six-nation dialogue, involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia, has been stalled since the end of 2008, fueling regional concerns over Pyongyang’s ongoing nuclear ambitions.
Regional powers have also been watching the succession in Pyongyang and the activities of the heir apparent with interest as it could lead to a sudden collapse of the North’s iron-fisted regime.
While North Koreans, who are kept isolated from outside news, have no choice but to approve of the three-generation dictatorial succession, many secretly question the abilities of the young heir apparent, those who have observed Pyongyang for years say.
Although it would not openly admit it, the South Korean government has been putting more weight on its reunification policies since last year, apparently noting the weaker leadership of the younger Kim in the North.
The senior Kim, who rarely travels abroad, made a visit to Beijing as recently as August, and the heir apparent had not accompanied his father then either, according to intelligence officials here.
An official trip to China by the North’s heir apparent would indicate China’s nod of approval over the reclusive state’s father-to-son succession and also cement his position as the incoming leader to the outside world.
The junior Kim, who is thought to be no more than 28 years of age, was first unveiled to outsiders in September, when he was made a four-star general and appointed vice chairman of the Workers’ Party Central Military Commission, which oversees the 1.2 million-strong armed forces.
Educated in Switzerland, Jong-un is considered to be the most ambitious among the North Korean leader’s three sons and resembles him the most in character.
Known to outsiders as “Internet-savvy and well-acquainted with weapons,” Kim Jong-un is largely believed to have been behind the recent cyber attacks against Seoul. Observers also fear he may lead a third atomic test to get international recognition of his country as a nuclear power by 2012.
The reclusive North Korean regime sees it as important to have its last-remaining ally China approve of what would mark its second hereditary power transition. Incumbent Kim began to rule his communist state in 1994, taking over from his father and the founder of North Korea Kim Il-sung.
Having suffered a stroke in 2008 and apparently still struggling with health problems, the incumbent Kim, 69, is making haste in having his youngest son take over the military and the people, a process that may be completed as early as next year, analysts say.
By Shin Hae-in (email@example.com
소식통 "김정일 위원장이 방중"
"김정은 동행 여부 확인 안돼"
정부 소식통은 20일 김정은 북한 당 중앙군사위 원회 부위원장의 방중보도와 관련해 "김정일 국방위원장이 방중한 것으로 안다"고 말했다.
이 소식통은 이어 "무단장(牧丹江) 시 숙소에 머무는 방중단 인원 70여 명의 공식 수행명단에는 김정은 부위원장의 이름이 없는 것으로 확인됐다"고 덧붙였다.
그는 그러나 "김정은 부위원장이 동행했는지 여부는 확인되지 않았다"고 밝혔다.
정부의 또 다른 당국자는 "현재로서는 확인하기 힘들다"면서 "전용기차가 국경을 넘어간 것은 확인했으나 기차에 타고 있는 사람을 확인한 적은 없다"고 말했다.
이 당국자는 "김정은이 동행했을 가능성이 있지만 신중을 기해야할 입장"이라고 강조했다.