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N. Korean leader may visit joint development zone with China: sources

SEOUL, (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il may visit the site of a joint industrial park with China on his way back from the latest trip to the neighboring nation, sources said Monday, a move that could underscore his commitment to economic cooperation with the ally.

The 69-year-old Kim has been traveling by train through the Changchun, Jilin and Tumen regions of China's northeastern region since Friday without spending a night in a hotel. He is now staying in Yangzhou, near Shanghai, China's economic capital, according to sources there.

Later this week, North Korea and China are scheduled to hold a groundbreaking ceremony for a joint project to turn Hwanggumpyong,
an island in the Yalu River on their border, into an industrial complex.
Sources said the North's leader could attend the event.

"There has been talk of Kim planning to attend the ceremony to break ground for the development of Hwanggumpyong, and all hotels in the area have been booked up," a source said on condition of anonymity.

The North and China plan to turn Hwanggumpyong into a base for logistics, tourism and manufacturing that would be linked to China's industrial complex to be built in Dandong. The North's state media disclosed a deal last year to build a new cross-border bridge on the Yalu River as part of a major economic package announced by Beijing.

Some even speculated that organizers could move up the ceremony, originally scheduled for Friday, considering Kim's itinerary. Kim's attendance in a Friday ceremony would mean that he will have been out of his country for more than a week.

If Kim shows up at the ceremony, experts say it would mark his commitment to economic development with China.

The isolated country has been wary of opening up to the outside world, while Beijing has been urging North Korea to follow its footsteps in embracing economic reforms.

During his visit to Japan for a summit over the weekend, China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said that Beijing invited Kim so Pyongyang could better examine China's economic development process and use it as a reference to revive the struggling North Korean economy.

Kim began his latest secretive trip to China last Friday, when his train crossed the border and arrived in Tumen and Mudanjiang.

On Saturday, the second day of his visit, Kim toured a car plant in Changchun, an industrial hub in northeastern China, before passing through Shenyang to reach Yangzhou by train near Shanghai late Sunday.

It is the first time Kim has visited three major cities in northeastern China and its southern region at the same time.

Analysts said Kim's latest trip appears aimed at securing either economic assistance or food aid and demonstrating his grip on power, despite preparations for an eventual handover to his youngest son Jong-Un after suffering a stroke in August 2008.