BEIJING — North Korean leader Kim Jong Il reportedly arrived in Beijing on Wednesday for a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao that would mark the climax of his visit to his country's most important ally.
The reclusive Kim arrived in Beijing at 9 a.m. (0100 GMT) aboard his personal train and went directly to the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, South Korea's Yonhap News agency said.
The vast, high-security compound in the city's west is where Kim stayed on his last visit to Beijing in August. Yonhap and other South Korean media said Kim's meeting with Hu was most likely to take place Wednesday afternoon.
Yonhap did not cite sources in the report. The Chinese state guesthouse would not comment and the North Korean Embassy said it had no information. China's Foreign Ministry has refused to confirm Kim's presence in China, although Premier Wen Jiabao has said China invited him to study and hopefully adopt Beijing's market-oriented reforms.
Previous reform attempts have been abandoned by North Korea and it's far from clear how far the ailing 69-year-old Kim – or his anointed successor, son Kim Jong Un – would be willing to go.
Kim crossed into China on Friday night for his third trip to the country in just over a year, underscoring China's crucial importance to the North as a source of diplomatic support and economic assistance. He reportedly visited sites and met with officials in economically thriving Jiangsu province region before heading north on Tuesday.
Beijing is believed to have the most influence over North Korea of any foreign power and is desperate to prevent a collapse of the hardline communist regime that could unleash political chaos and economic disintegration along its border.
Isolated and impoverished North Korea's exchanges with China have grown even more important since South Korea's conservative government halted unconditional food and fertilizer shipments in early 2008 and suspended almost all trade with the North. The U.N. and others have also enacted sanctions to punish the country for violating nuclear agreements.
Kim's trip takes place as an American delegation – led by Robert King, U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues – is visiting North Korea to verify food supply surveys conducted by the United Nations and U.S.-based charities and see if there are ways to monitor aid distribution.
The last U.S. food shipments were stopped in 2009 after food monitors were expelled.
The United Nations also said Tuesday it would soon decide whether to release emergency humanitarian funds for the North. The U.N. World Food Program launched a $200 million dollar international appeal late last month after it concluded that more than 6 million of North Korea's 23 million people were in urgent need of aid. It said the North's public distribution system would run out of food between May and July.
But donor response appears to have been weak because of distrust of North Korea's communist regime and concern that assistance might be diverted to its powerful military. South Korea and some in the U.S. are skeptical that the situation is so dire.
Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, Foster Klug in Seoul, South Korea, and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.