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(News Focus) Kim Jong-il likely to seek greater support from China over succession
By Sam Kim
SEOUL, May 25 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il will likely drive home his argument for completing a dynastic succession in his country when he meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing, observers say.

   Kim, the 69-year-old North Korean strongman who is working to hand his power down to his third son, has traveled across northeastern China since last Friday in his seventh trip to the neighboring ally since taking over the regime from his father in 1994.

   On Wednesday, he arrived in the Chinese capital apparently for a meeting with the Chinese leadership, and observers say Kim could also meet with Premier Wen Jiabao, who has told South Korea that Kim was invited to China for lessons on economic development.

   Kim has toured major economic facilities, including a vehicle manufacturer, a warehouse outlet and electronics factories, since the beginning of his Chinese trip aboard an armored train.

   Analysts say the journey serves another important mission: winning broader support among senior Chinese leaders for a hereditary power succession underway in Pyongyang.

   Since unveiling his youngest son Jong-un as successor in last September, Kim Jong-il has taken the heir-apparent on a wide array of field inspections that have included visits to military and industrial sites. It remains unclear whether Kim Jong-un, believed to be in his late 20s, is accompanying his father on the Chinese trip.

   Analysts say senior Chinese leaders remain reluctant to openly embrace the succession plot in the neighboring communist ally. In February, Beijing's security minister, however, made remarks in Pyongyang that China is celebrating the rise of Kim Jong-un as successor, signaling that China would eventually approve of the leadership change.

   North Korea remains China's key buffer state. The two countries fought on the same side in the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a truce, leaving them technically at war with the United States and South Korea.

   Kim and Hu, if they meet, would also discuss their roadmap on reopening the stalled six-party talks on the North's nuclear arms programs. China, which hosts the negotiations that also bring together the two Koreas, the U.S., Russia and Japan, proposed earlier this year that the nuclear envoys of Seoul and Pyongyang get together first to pave the ground for direct Pyongyang-Washington talks and eventually the resumption of the six-way dialogue.

   The meeting between Kim and Hu, unlikely to be confirmed by China at least until Kim returns home, would also lead to greater economic cooperation between the sides. North Korea has over the past several months billed its northeastern free trade zone of Rajin in an attempt to draw commerce and trade from its neighbors. Analysts say Chinese businesses can significantly reduce their transportation costs if they take advantage of North Korea's opening of ports.