North Korea's Kim visits Chinese tech firms

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il reportedly was touring high-tech companies in southern China on Saturday and preparing for a possible meeting with President Hu Jintao in the midst of what could be a trip to study economic reform. Kim went to Shenzhen, a technology center that borders Hong Kong, after visiting nearby Guangzhou, China's southern business capital, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported, citing unidentified sources.

Yonhap said Kim and Hu planned to meet or had done so already. On Saturday, Chinese media said Hu was in Xiamen, a coastal city northeast of Shenzhen and a short flight from Guangzhou. Beijing is under pressure from Washington to use its leverage as the North's main aid donor to get Pyongyang to make progress in six-nation talks aimed at eliminating its nuclear programs.

The Chinese government has not confirmed whether the secretive Kim is visiting. But intense security around the luxury White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou, which was cleared of guests this week, fueled speculation that the North Korean leader was staying there.

Employees of other hotels and restaurants on Guangzhou's Shamian Island, where the White Swan is located, said Saturday they had heard Kim was there but hadn't seen him. None would give their names.

China also is concerned about reviving the North's decrepit, state-run economy, which has struggled with widespread hunger and a steep economic decline since the end of Soviet subsidies in the early 1990s. North Korea has allowed small farmers' markets and other modest reforms. But Beijing has been pushing for more changes in an effort to revive the economy and reduce its reliance on Chinese aid. Hu made a rare personal visit to Pyongyang in October to press for progress in the nuclear talks and more economic liberalization. Guangzhou is the center for the export-driven manufacturing industries that have turned China's southeast into an economic dynamo.

South Korean, Japanese and Hong Kong media have buzzed with rumored Kim sightings since his armored train reportedly crossed into China on Tuesday. Japan's NTV and TBS networks broadcast what they said were scenes of Kim's motorcade in Guangzhou and the North Korean leader aboard a boat on the city's Pearl River. Shenzhen is a center for telecoms and other high-tech companies and the site of China's second stock exchange. Yonhap didn't say what companies Kim was visiting.

Kim also was to visit a port, a nuclear power plant and other industrial facilities, the South Korean agency reported. The Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po, citing unidentified sources, said Kim visited Guangzhou's Sun Yat-sen University on Friday. The report said Kim saw the university library but didn't give any other details.

On Saturday, security measures that had blocked traffic and some outside visitors from Shamian Island in Guangzhou while Kim reportedly was there were lifted, said people there reached by phone. An employee who answered the phone at the White Swan's front desk and refused to give her name said the hotel resumed accepting ordinary guests at midday on Saturday, reports the AP. N.U.