North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Il is reported to be paying his second visit to China this year. South Korean news reports say he arrived early on Thursday by train with his youngest son and presumed heir Kim Jong Un (left, being shown on South Korean TV). They briefly visited a middle school in Jilin that Kim Jong Il’s father, Kim Il Sung, is said to have attended in the late 1920s, underlining the lineage from Great Leader to next Leader. Where they went after that is not known.
Kim was in China in May, and this latest visit — and its purpose — is unlikely to be confirmed by either side until it is over, as is custom. The ailing North Korean leader might be seeking aid following the recent devastating flooding in his impoverished country, seeking medical aid for himself or having discussions about China’s attempt to restart the six-nations’ talks on North Korea’s nuclear program, though the presence of his son would suggest the succession might be on the agenda ahead of a rare meeting of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party in September to elect a new leadership.
One curiosity is that the trip comes when former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is in Pyongyang seeking the release of an American sentenced to eight years hard labor for entering the country illegally. (Update: Carter succeeded.) Kim’s absence from the country during Carter’s visit would be a bizarre and inexplicable breach of diplomatic etiquette, though bizarre and inexplicable is a phrase never far from events in North Korea.