|China is North Korea's sole major ally and benefactor [Reuters]
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has arrived in Beijing for a meeting with Chinese president Hu Jintao, highlighting the influence the economic powerhouse has with the isolated regime struggling to feed its people.
Kim arrived at 9am (0100 GMT) aboard his specially outfitted armoured train and went directly to the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, South Korea's Yonhap News agency reported on Wednesday.
The vast, high-security compound is where Kim stayed on his last visit in August. Yonhap and other South Korean media said Kim's meeting with Hu would probably take place on Wednesday afternoon.
Secrecy over Kim's whereabouts is routine, and Yonhap did not cite sources in its 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.
His previous stops during the trip that began on Friday were said to be economically related.
Beijing is North Korea's most vital diplomatic ally and economic supporter. Kim rarely makes foreign trips and his third visit to China in just over a year underscores the alliance with China.
The UN and others have also enacted sanctions to punish the country for violating nuclear agreements.
North Korea's exchanges with China have grown even more important since South Korea halted unconditional food and fertiliser shipments in early 2008 and suspended almost all trade with the North.
The last US food shipments were stopped in 2009 after food monitors were expelled.
The United Nations also said on Tuesday it would soon decide whether to release emergency humanitarian funds for the North. The UN World Food Programme launched a $200m 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.