North Korea's Kim in Beijing on Secretive Trip
By John Ruwitch
BEIJING (Reuters) - Reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-il arrived in Beijing on Monday to discuss his nuclear programs days after the United States urged China for a fresh push to end the crisis, South Korean media reported.
A convoy of unmarked cars, including a black Mercedes stretch limousine, pulled out of Beijing's main train station and onto the wide Chang'an Avenue heading west toward the state guest house where Kim has stayed on previous trips.
Police had earlier closed the city's congested main road that cuts through the heart of the capital and runs along the north side of Tiananmen Square.
A railway official said the station, guarded by military police, was closed for the arrival of a special visitor, but declined to give their identity.
At the walled Diaoyutai State Guest House compound, an official said Kim was due in on Monday. "He should be arriving today," said the man who declined to be identified.
South Korea's YTN cable television news reported that Kim had arrived. His special train crossed into China late on Sunday amid heavy secrecy and traveled overnight to Beijing. Kim would hold talks with Chinese leaders later on Monday, YTN said.
Kim would meet Chinese President and Communist Party chief Hu Jintao, and possibly other leaders, during a four-day visit, South Korea's Yonhap news and state broadcaster KBS said.
The rare trip comes just days after Vice President Dick Cheney met Chinese leaders and warned that time was running out to resolve the crisis over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions that has gripped North Asia since late 2002.
Cheney came to China last week armed with fresh evidence of the North's nuclear weapons capabilities and pressing Beijing to take a firmer line with its communist neighbor.
China has played host at two rounds of inconclusive six-party talks aimed at ending the weapons crisis and a third round in Beijing is planned.
Chinese leaders are likely to dangle the prospect of significant economic help before Kim, while pressing home the point that it firmly opposes a nuclear-armed Pyongyang and insists that the problem be resolved peacefully, analysts say.
"Putting pressure on North Korea (news - web sites) isn't a good way to do things," said Korea expert Piao Jianyi with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "But we have emphasized all along that the North Korean nuclear issue should be resolved peacefully."
Solving the nuclear issue is key to increased outside economic assistance to the ailing North Korean economy, including from China, the isolated North's closest friend.
Kim's four-day visit to China would be his first in three years. His previous two trips were also cloaked in secrecy.
Kim's entourage included 40 high-level ruling party, state and military officials in a trip aimed to shore up ties with Beijing, KBS said.
Kim, who avoids travel by plane, was also seeking economic aid and might tour the northeastern cities of Shenyang or Dalian, Yonhap said.
During the 2001 visit, Kim stopped in Shanghai and was reportedly impressed with the glitz of China's financial hub.
"The backdrop of the Kim Jong-il trip is that North Korea is in a situation where it has to resolve the nuclear issue before there can be progress in the economic front," Koh Yoo-hwan, Dongguk University professor on North Korea studies.
Kim was greeted on the Chinese border city of Dandong on Sunday by Wang Jiarui, the Communist Party's director of international relations, Yonhap said in a report from Beijing that quoted informed diplomatic sources.
Kim would also meet Premier Wen Jiabao, who is at the helm of China's booming economy, and former president and Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin, KBS said. Jiang and Kim both command the military in their respective countries.
Regional tensions have simmered since October 2002, when U.S. officials say Pyongyang disclosed it was working on a clandestine program to enrich uranium -- in addition to a plutonium-based program that had been mothballed in 1994.
China has held two rounds of talks with the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia to try to get the North to give up its nuclear ambitions, but they have made little progress.
In the last round in February, the six agreed to meet again before mid-year and to start working-level talks before that to discuss the dispute. No progress has been reported since.
"At the moment all parties are working together to find a way to set up a working group to address issues," Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing told a news conference in Straffan, Ireland on Sunday.
"China's objective is clear. The legitimate security concerns of the (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) should be properly addressed and the whole peninsula should be free of nuclear arms." (Additional reporting by Paul Eckert and Jack Kim in Seoul)