The youngest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il is rumoured to be on a visit to China in what many observers see as an indication of the role of Kim Jong-un as a potential successor to his father. Although his whereabouts remains partially unknown, he was reported by South Korean media to have taken the train to China, which is known to be North Korea's main ally.

The visit to China is believed to be the younger Kim's first such trip since he became a four-star general last September and took a leading role in the ruling Workers' Party. The trip also provokes wide interest as it comes after the county's current leader Kim Jong-Il who suffered from a stroke is yet to officially announce his successor. Kim Jong-il's serious health problems saw an international surge in fears for the stability of the nuclear state.

South Korean news agency Yonhap quoted a source in the north-eastern Chinese border city as saying "Kim Jong-un arrived in China early this morning via Tumen. But we don't know where he is now."

Conflicting reports on his location have surfaced and while the final destination of Mr Kim's trip still remains unknown, a few commentators in China seem to hint at the possibility of Beijing as the most likely option, as he could have access to key politicians and economists there, and hold meetings to further discuss his country's new development projects.

Others however see the capital as a very unlikely choice. While Kim Jong-un did not travel with his father he is reported to be accompanied by his uncle, Song-taek, widely seen as Mr Kim's political guide and right arm on his path to power.

With Kim Jong-Il still affected by the stroke he is believed to have had in 2008, the world is still awaiting for the confirmation of his successor. While Kim Jong-un has been considered to be his natural successor, the regime's persistent refusals to make a public announcement, mean that doubts are now surfacing. North Korea's head is widely considered by some to be a master strategist who famously encouraged the creation of a myth surrounding his birth and his life, the identity of his successor is of great importance, as many will try to destabilise the regime when the current leader dies.

Who is Kim Jong -un?

His date of birth is not fully known, in continuity with his father's tradition of mysterious birth circumstances althoughit is generally assumed that Kim Jun-un was born in 1983 or early 1984. He is the youngest son of Kim Jong-Il and his late third wife Ko Yong-hui.

In fact, very little is known about the man himself or his relationship with his father, however many believe that his mother particularly doted on him reportedly calling him the "Morning Star King".

He was Swiss-educated like his brothers, and avoided Western influences, returning home when not in school and known to regularly dine out with the North Korean ambassador. Since his return to Pyongyang, he is known to have attended the Kim Il-sung Military University.

He is said to compete with his half-brother Kim Jong-nam for the succession to power, however after the latter's deportation from Japan in May 2001, Kim Jon-un is now seen as being the main potential successor to his father.

Kim Jong-un also shares some of his father's health problems, and is already reported to have diabetes and heart disease but these details, as with many others in North Korea, are impossible to confirm.

Regional expectations

In Asia, Kim Jong-un's visit to China is expected to raise pressure on the South Korean Lee Myung-bak administration to reshape its North Korea policy and try to reduce the breakdown in communication that has affected the two countries for some time now.

Many are conscious that any hope of the resumption of the six-party talks on the North's nuclear program depends on the amelioration of the inter-Korean relations.

However in Seoul, the South Korean capital, the mood is less optimistic as officials doubt any real progresses will come out of the visit. The Korea Times, reported officials saying "Our efforts to create a turning point for relations with North Korea will continue, positive changes can be made only if Pyongyang agrees to cooperation and dialogue. The inter-Korean relations depend on how North Korea behaves."

These comments seem to be in line with President Lee's attitude, who while indicating willingness for dialogue, also threatens to respond harshly to provocative behaviour. With regards to the situation and state of the inter-Koreans relations, the only consensus analysts seem to have reached is that from where Lee and Kim Jon-un stand, little meaningful progress is expected.

However if real progress is for now not yet an option the re-establishment of some kind of dialogue would be a good start and there is still hope that Kim's China visit will spur dialogue between the communist allies on topics such as military ties and economic aid.

China remains the most important of the few supporters of North Korea and acts as the protector of North Korea. It has used its veto on the United Nations Security Council to block condemnation of Pyongyang for the torpedo attack on a South Korean warship in March 2010, which killed 46 southern sailors and blocked the release of a report which accuses North Korea of violating UN sanctions by trading ballistic missile technology with Iran.