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Originally published Friday, August 27, 2010 at 4:06 AM

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NKorean leader's trip spurs succession speculation

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il reportedly toured a Chinese agricultural expo and auto plant Saturday during a surprise trip that reportedly included a meeting with China's top leader in an appeal for diplomatic and financial support for a succession plan involving his youngest son.

Associated Press Writer

CHANGCHUN, China —

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il reportedly toured a Chinese agricultural expo and auto plant Saturday during a surprise trip that reportedly included a meeting with China's top leader in an appeal for diplomatic and financial support for a succession plan involving his youngest son.

Kim, who is reportedly traveling with his son, was expected to return home later Saturday. Many North Korea watchers predict the son - Kim Jong Un, believed to be in his 20s - will be appointed to a key party position at a ruling Workers' Party meeting early next month - the first such gathering in decades.

To pull off the event with sufficient fanfare, North Korea will need Chinese aid, particularly following the devastating floods that battered the country's northwest this month, analysts said.

"The convention needs to be festive with the party giving out food or normalizing day-to-day life for its people, but with the recent flood damages they are not able to," said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute think tank outside Seoul.

"The most important thing on Kim's agenda is scoring Chinese aid, which will ensure that the meeting will be well received by the people."

On Saturday, a convoy of cars left the hotel where Kim was supposed to have spent the night in Changchun in northeast China. It was seen going into an agricultural exposition in the city. Security was heavy in the area.

Kim was also scheduled to visit the First Auto Works auto plant, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported, before his expected return home later Saturday. The headquarters of the FAW Group Corp., the first auto plant set up in Communist China, is in Changchun.

South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper said Saturday that Kim and Chinese President Hu Jintao are believed to have met in Changchun on Friday. It cited a high-level South Korean official it didn't identify.

The Dong-a Ilbo newspaper carried a similar report, saying the two are believed to have discussed the North's succession, the resumption of six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program and ways to strengthen bilateral economic cooperation.

Asked whether Kim was visiting China, a duty officer with the press office of the Chinese Foreign Ministry said late Friday that "China and North Korea consistently maintain high-level contacts. We will release the relevant information in good time."

China, as North Korea's biggest diplomatic ally and a major source of food aid and oil, would expect to be kept in the loop about major political transitions in the North, but the Beijing leadership is not likely to be enthusiastic about the prospect of another dynastic succession next door, said Zhu Feng, director of Peking University's Center for International and Strategic Studies.

---

Associated Press writers Jean H. Lee and Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, and Scott McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report.

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