BEIJING — China's premier confirmed that secretive North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is traveling in China, invited by Beijing to learn from Chinese reforms in the latest push to get North Korea to remold its faltering economy.
On a third day spent shuttling around China by special train, Kim arrived late Sunday in the eastern city of Yangzhou, the Yonhap news agency and YTN television network both reported, citing unidentified sources in the city west of Shanghai. Yonhap said he was expected to travel to a guesthouse by vehicle, and YTN said he was expected to stay in the city for about three days.
Meeting in Japan, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told South Korean President Lee Myung-bak that Beijing had invited Kim to study China's economic reforms, Lee's office said in a statement.
"We invited (Kim) to give (the North Koreans) a chance to understand the Chinese development and use it for their own development," Wen was quoted as saying. An official with the South Korean presidential office said Monday that Wen's comments were confirmation Kim was in China.
Wen's comments mark a break with past protocol; by agreement, Beijing and Pyongyang usually announce Kim's visits once he has crossed back into North Korea. And they highlight the difficulties Beijing faces balancing its alliance with North Korea that dates to the Cold War with China's deeply entwined economic relationship with South Korea.
Kim's visit is his third to China in a year, an unusual pace for a leader who rarely travels abroad. The visits underscore Kim's need to shore up support from China, the North's chief supplier of food and fuel and its main diplomatic protector. In January, North Korea appealed for urgent aid to feed its population, and the country faces international pressure to end its nuclear weapons program.
China and North Korea want to resume six-nation talks on the North's nuclear program, while fellow participants South Korea and the United States say the North must first exhibit sincerity toward disarmament.
The U.S. State Department says it has no information on North Korean officials visiting China. U.S. officials plan to visit the North starting Tuesday to evaluate its food needs. The U.N. says 6 million people — a quarter of North Korea's population — need emergency help after bad weather hit crops.
North Korean and Chinese official media have been silent about Kim's travels, and China has confirmed his most recent official visits — in last May and August — only after Kim returned home.
A visit to Yangzhou, a tourist spot on the Yangtze River, could have special symbolism for Kim. It would come 20 years after Chinese state media say his father and predecessor, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, held talks there with China's then-president, Jiang Zemin.
South Korean broadcaster YTN said Kim would visit sites in Yangzhou linked to the solar power industry. It said he also planned to travel to Shanghai, which he visited in 2001 to look at China's economic reforms.
On Saturday, Kim visited the industrial center of Changchun, Yonhap said. He had met there in August with Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Japanese public broadcaster NHK obtained a grainy video appearing to show Kim in the northeastern Chinese city of Mudanjiang on Friday. He was shown shaking hands and waving to Chinese officials before climbing into a limousine.
South Korean media had initially suggested Kim's son and heir apparent, Kim Jong Un, was either making a trip to China alone or was accompanying his father.
Associated Press writer Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.