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S. Korea says China issued verbal invitation to N. Korea's heir apparent

Senior Chinese officials invited North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's heir apparent son, Kim Jong-un, to visit Beijing during their trip to Pyongyang in recent months, an opposition lawmaker said Monday, citing South Korea's spy chief.

   The verbal invitation is widely seen as China's seal of approval for Kim's plan to hand over power to his youngest son in what would mark the communist regime's second hereditary power succession.

   Kim Jong-il has ruled the North with an iron fist since 1994 when he took over the country of 24 million people after the death of his father, the North's founder Kim Il-sung.

   The 69-year-old has taken steps to extend his family dynasty into a third generation. He named Jong-un vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers' Party and a four-star general last year.

   The junior Kim has expanded his involvement in policies and accompanied his father on field trips to factories and military units to strengthen his position of the heir apparent, Choi Jae-sung, a lawmaker of the opposition Democratic Party, told reporters after being briefed on the North by the National Intelligence Service.

   "Senior Chinese officials verbally invited" Kim Jong-un to visit Beijing during their trip, Choi quoted spy chief Won Sei-hoon as telling lawmakers in a closed-door parliamentary session.

   Won's comments came amid media speculation that the leader-in-waiting could visit China, though there are no signs that such a trip is imminent. Kim Jong-il has visited China several times.

   China is the North's last remaining ally and benefactor, and has hosted international talks on ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs since 2003.     

   The North walked away from the talks in 2009, but it has expressed its willingness to rejoin the nuclear talks in recent months.

   Won also said the North is strengthening its control on food supply and is collecting rice from each household, companies and state organizations for its 1.1 million-strong military, the key backbone of Kim's rule, according to Choi.

   The spy chief said one of the reasons for the North's control of food supplies may be for the milestone event next year when the country will mark the centennial of the birth of its founder.

   The North has pledged to achieve its goal of building a "great, prosperous and powerful nation" by 2012, though few analysts believe the North could fulfill its goal, citing economic woes and food shortages.

   The World Food Program and two other U.N. agencies last month called for 434,000 tons of outside food aid to feed more than 6 million vulnerable North Koreans.

(Yonhap News)