North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Photo / AP

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Photo / AP

SEOUL - North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is visiting China, his only powerful ally, with his son and heir apparent, South Korean media reported.

The visit precedes a rare meeting next month of North Korea's Workers' Party, which rubber stamps major policy decisions. Analysts say this meeting could set in motion the succession of Kim Jong Un.

"Kim Jong Un accompanied his father on a visit to China and we are trying to figure out their exact destination," South Korea's YTN television quoted a presidential source as saying.

Yonhap news agency also quoted a high-ranking South Korean official as saying Kim appeared to have travelled to China.

The reclusive leader very rarely travels abroad, but this would be the second time since May that he has gone to China, which props up his country's failing economy.

There is widespread speculation that Kim is in poor health after a suspected stroke in 2008. Some analysts say he may be in a hurry to establish his son's succession.