Kim Jong Il Heads to Beijing on Unusually Public Trip for North Korean Leader

But Kim Jong Il's main purpose of this visit is to seek much-needed economic assistance from North Korea's last and staunchest ally, China. The impoverished country is in dire need of food, oil, and goods to keep its economy going, and is said to have been in political unrest since the disastrous attempt at revaluing its currency earlier this year.

Intensified U.N. sanctions imposed after the country tested missiles and nuclear weapons in recent years have also put Kim's regime in a difficult spot. Talks to end its nuclear program have been deadlocked, further isolating North Korea from the international community.

"North Korea wants to get China's diplomatic help on the issue of non-proliferation so that it can avoid being totally isolated in the international community," said Professor Zhang Liangui, an expert on China-North Korea relations who teaches at the Central Party School in Beijing.

Foreign investment is also on Kim's agenda. "Shanghai and Shenzhen that Kim Jong Il visited previously are both too advanced into a capitalist system," said Professor Philo Kim at Seoul National University. "But Dalian model is pretty realistic enough to apply to their special economic zone, like Rajin-Sonbong," referring to a northeastern port area where borders meet with Russia and China. The area has been established in December 1991 as North Korea's first free trade zone but attempts to develop the area have failed so far.

ABC's Joohee Cho reported from Seoul and Chito Romana from Beijing. Wookyung Chloe Jung and Danny Kim contributed to this story.

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