North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il wants an early restart to stalled nuclear disarmament talks, Chinese state media said on Monday, ending official silence about Kim's secretive five-day trip ahead of a key congress.
Kim, who rarely leaves his isolated state, told Chinese President Hu Jintao he remained committed to the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
North Korea has not shifted in its support of the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, and does not want to see tensions on the peninsula, Kim told Hu in the northeast Chinese city of Changchun, according to Chinese state television's main evening news.
Kim hopes to maintain close communication and coordination with China to promote an early resumption of the six-party talks and ease tensions on the Korean peninsula, it added, referring to stalled multilateral talks on the North's nuclear programme.
Hu said that maintaining peace and stability in Korea was everyone's aspiration, adding talks on the North's nuclear ambitions should be restarted as quickly as possible.
The reports did not mention Kim's youngest son. A source had told Reuters at the weekend that Kim had been accompanied by his youngest son -- his presumed heir -- in what analysts said could be an attempt to gain support for his succession plans.
North Korea's official KCNA news agency also made no mention of Kim's son, although, in a possible oblique reference, it quoted him telling a banquet in his honour: Steadily developing the friendship (between North Korea and China) through generations is an important issue in defending peace and security in the Northeast Asia and the rest of the world.
Kim's words may help ease regional tensions also fuelled by the sinking of a South Korean navy ship, but there are many obstacles to resuming the six-party talks aimed an ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons development.
At least verbally, this is a significant shift, but we will have to observe just what he means by six-party talks. It may be that North Korea's concept for them differs from other sides', said Zhang Liangui, an expert on North Korea at the Central Party School, a prominent state institute in Beijing.
North Korea may seek to shift the focus in any fresh negotiations away from its own nuclear disarmament and to broader demands, including an end to U.N. sanctions, a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War and broader international nuclear disarmament.
Effectively, that amounts to demanding North Korea's recognition as a nuclear power, said Zhang.
Kim, 68, last visited China in May. Both sides confirm his visits only after he has returned to North Korea on his armoured train.
China is the only major backer of North Korea, which is isolated from the international community over its nuclear weapons programme, including test blasts in 2006 and 2009.
Pyongyang came under further condemnation after South Korea said it had torpedoed one of its navy ships in March, killing 46 sailors.
State television showed Hu and an alert-looking but limping Kim hugging each other. Kim is widely believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008 and in previous public appearances has come across as haggard and shuffling.
The report also showed a sunglass-wearing Kim visiting farms and factories, including one where China makes high-speed trains, and a middle school where his father was educated in the 1920s, during his tour of two north-eastern Chinese provinces.
South Korea and Japan have been sceptical about recent North Korean claims it wants to come back to the negotiating table.
The March sinking of the South Korean navy ship deepened tensions between Pyongyang and Seoul and strained Chinese ties with South Korea. North Korea denies Seoul's accusations it was behind the incident.
KCNA was silent on Kim's comments about the nuclear disarmament talks that North Korea had called finished for good.
Kim was accompanied by a large contingent of aides spanning the military, regional bureaucrats and most notably key officials of the Workers' Party of Korea that is scheduled to meet for a rare conference in early September.
Jang Song-thaek, Kim's brother in law who has been most visible at the reclusive leader's side, was among the people travelling with him, KCNA said. Jang is considered an important backer of Kim's youngest son as heir to the dynastic state.
Kim is thought to have brought along his youngest son Kim Jong-un, widely seen as the next head of the dynasty that has led North Korea since its founding more than 60 years ago.
Kim may be lining up China behind succession plans, foreign analysts have said. The Workers' Party, which rubber-stamps big decisions in the North, is due to hold a rare meeting in September that could set in motion succession steps.
(Additional reporting by Jack Kim in Seoul; Editing by Alex Richardson)