Grainy images of a hotel in Jilin appear to confirm the presence of the North Korean leader in China.
It is understood Kim Jong Il has come to secure Beijing’s approval for his succession plans, ahead of a party leadership meeting next month.
Events are being closely followed in South Korea. Professor Yang Moo-Jin from the University of North Korean Studies says China wants to connect the successor issue with nuclear talks.
He also believes the timing of the visit was no coincidence but meticulously planned.
“In other words, the North used the visit of former US President Jimmy Carter well in terms of security and safety,” he commented.
Washington does not have direct diplomatic ties with Pyongyang but Carter and Bill Clinton have travelled to the reclusive state in the past on humanitarian missions.
This latest one was to secure the release of an American jailed for illegally entering the country and indeed Aijalon Gomes was duly freed.
State media in the North also report that Carter has been given assurances that Pyongyang is committed to nuclear disarmament and resuming six-way talks.