All the world knows about this rare and potentially critical trip, however, is that the South Korean intelligence agency detected a “special train” at the Chinese border last night, that reporters camped out along the railroad line in China were removed by Chinese security, and that “a group of Asians” was seen entering a hotel in the Chinese city of Dalian on Monday morning, according to a South Korean TV station. Kyodo News published a photo of Kim Jong-il ducking into a 35-car motorcade in Dalian on Sunday.
…If he is in fact in China, Kim is expected to ask his closest ally for help on a number of fronts to prop up his regime.
For a start, a bungled currency reform last year is thought to have made North Korea’s frightful food shortages even worse. Hundreds of thousands of people died of starvation in the mid-1990s, and the UN World Food Program says it will run out of aid next month. The North executed its former chief of economic planning in March as punishment for harming the country’s currency.
Governments around the world, fed up with North Korea’s nuclear weapons tests, missile tests, and repeated refusals to abide by previous disarmament agreements, have simply lost their will to fund the WFP emergency food program.
The Los Angeles Times is more certain about the trip:
The 68-year-old Kim, famously phobic about flying, traveled in a style befitting one of the world’s last Cold War dictators: on an armored train and in what was supposed to be complete state secrecy. He and his retinue crossed the Yalu River separating North Korea and China and arrived at 5.20 a.m. in the border city of Dandong.
From there, he traveled to the port city of Dalian, where he was believed to be holed up in the luxury Furama Hotel, before traveling in the early evening to Beijing. In keeping with Kim’s anachronistic style, the Chinese government maintained a media blackout on the visit (in contrast to the many photographs published of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and even more of his model wife, Carla Bruni, during a visit last week).
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But it’s impossible to keep under wraps a 17-carriage armored train, not to mention the accompanying retinue of limousines and a bus with Pyongyang license plates that was reportedly following along. Roads alongside Kim’s route were closed for much of the day Monday for security. South Korean and Japanese press were stalking Kim Jong Il’s delegation through China, and a a Japanese television cameraman captured a shot of him in his trademark khaki jacket and sunglasses. He is believed likely to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao and a succession of other Chinese officials.
See also from the Guardian: “Kim Jong-il turns to lone ally China amid rising tensions.”