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Seoul watching for signs of N. Korean leader's possible visit to China

All Headlines 14:00 March 29, 2010

SEOUL, March 29 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is watching closely for signs of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's possible visit to China, an official said Monday, as his recent tour of provincial areas fueled speculation that a Chinese trip may be imminent.

North Korea watchers say this week is the best time if Kim intends to visit the neighboring nation in the near future because Pyongyang's rubber-stamp legislature is scheduled to convene late next week. Kim's trip to China, if realized, would be a key indication that the North is ready to return to international nuclear talks.

"There are still no definitive signs that Chairman Kim will visit China," a senior government official said, referring to the reclusive leader by his official title as head of the National Defense Commission. "However, the government is maintaining a close watch with all possibilities open."

Feeding speculation about Kim's Chinese trip was his frequent visits to areas near the country's border with China.

According to a report by the North's official Korean Central News Agency on Thursday, Kim recently visited factories in the northwestern North Pyongan Province where his favorite Chinese travel route begins. That raised speculation Kim may be readying for a trip to China.

Officials here, however, noted that the North's leader may take a different route this time to avoid publicity as his anticipated trip to China has already drawn international attention amid stalled six-way negotiations on ending the North's nuclear ambitions.

Seoul officials believe Kim's visit to China may be a prelude to the resumption of the six-party nuclear talks as Kim will have to offer a gift to China, host of the six-party talks, in exchange for the economic assistance he seeks from China.

The talks, which also involve South Korea, the United States, Japan and Russia, were last held in December 2008.

bdk@yna.co.kr
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