(ATTN: UPDATES in top 4 paras with Kim arriving at second destination by car; CHANGES headline)
BEIJING/JILIN, China, Aug. 27 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il arrived in a Chinese industrial city Friday, a day after making a pilgrimage to sites bearing footmarks of his late father, on an abrupt trip seen as related to his leadership succession plan.
A convoy of some 30 vehicles, believed to be carrying the reclusive leader, arrived at the South Lake Hotel in the northeastern Chinese city of Changchun, about an hour and a half after leaving the nearby city of Jilin.
Earlier in the day, Kim's convoy appeared to be traveling to a Jilin train station, where security was heavy, to allow the leader to board his personal armored train to Changchun. However, instead of stopping, the convoy took a highway to the capital city of Jilin province. About 10 police vehicles provided escort for the group of limousines and mini-buses.
Kim's stay in Changchun is expected to include a tour of advanced industrial facilities.
Kim, 68, began the latest secrecy-shrouded trip a day ago, crossing into China around midnight Wednesday aboard his luxurious special train.
The trip was a surprise because it came as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was in Pyongyang for a widely speculated meeting with him. It was also Kim's second visit to China in about three months, an unusual move for the isolated leader who rarely travels abroad.
Carter arrived in Pyongyang Wednesday to win the release of an American citizen detained in the North since January for illegal entry. Carter headed home Friday with the freed American, Aijalon Mahli Gomes, Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency said.
It was apparent that he failed to meet with Kim Jong-il.
On Thursday, Kim paid a visit to Jilin's Yuwen Middle School, which his father and national founder, Kim Il-sung, attended for two and a half years starting in 1927. Kim also visited Beishan Park in the city of Jilin where the remains of anti-Japanese independence fighters are buried.
North Korea has lavishly lauded Kim Il-sung for his anti-Japanese activities during the 1910-45 colonial rule. The late leader, who founded North Korea in 1948, is still revered as eternal president and is subject to a strong cult of personality even after his death in 1994.
Kim's move suggests that he visited the two sites considered sacred to his family dynasty ahead of handing power over to his youngest son, Jong-un, analysts said. Unconfirmed reports said the heir-apparent could be accompanying his father on the rare trip.
North Korea's ruling Workers' Party is scheduled to convene a rare leadership meeting early next month in which the younger Kim could be given a key position in the run-up to formally taking over the communist dynasty.
On Thursday, Pyongyang's state media reported that the country has started holding lower-level meetings of party delegations in the run-up to next month's conference.
"The meetings were unanimous in saying that the WPK conference ... will be a significant conference which will be a landmark of an epochal turn in strengthening the party and a great jubilee of great significance in ushering in a new surge in the revolution and construction," the KCNA said.
Kim's trip came as tensions still run high in the wake of the March sinking of a South Korean warship and China pushes to jump start six-nation talks on ending North Korea's nuclear programs.
Beijing's chief nuclear envoy has been in Seoul for talks on his trip to North Korea last week.
China is pushing for a "three-step" proposal for resuming the nuclear talks.
The proposal calls for Pyongyang and Washington first holding bilateral talks before all six parties hold an informal preparatory meeting and then an official session. The talks, which involve the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the U.S., have been stalled since late 2008.
South Korea has expressed its reluctance to reopen the dialogue unless the North shows a "responsible" attitude over the sinking and proves through action that it is serious about abandoning its nuclear programs.
BTS album ranked on Billboard chart for 20th consecutive week
Choking fine dust envelops S. Korea for 5th straight day
Korea, Denmark to celebrate 60th year of relationship with cultural events
(LEAD) S. Korea's military forgoes 'enemy' label against N. Korea in white paper
S. Korean football prospect makes history with La Liga debut
(2nd LD) Top N. Korean official in D.C. for talks with Pompeo
(6th LD) Trump, Kim to hold 2nd summit near end of Feb.: White House
(2nd LD) S. Korea's nuclear envoy may visit Sweden for talks with N. Korea: source
K-pop singer banned from South Korea releases new album online
Prosecutors seek arrest warrant for former Supreme Court chief justice