North Korean leader Kim Jong Il met Friday with a senior official from China in Pyongyang, Chinese state media reported, the first known contact between the reclusive leader and a foreign dignitary since he reportedly fell ill last August.
South Korean and U.S. officials say the 66-year-old Kim is recovering from a stroke he suffered in August. North Korea, however, denies Kim has been ill and since October has been releasing a steady stream of photos showing Kim touring the country.
The official Xinhua News Agency did not immediately give details of Friday's meeting between Kim and Wang Jiarui, head of the liaison office of China's ruling Communist Party. Wang may be able to offer the first outside account of the leader's health.
The high-level Chinese official has met with Kim at least three times during visits to North Korea in recent years. China remains communist North Korea's only major ally, and the two countries are celebrating the 60th anniversary of their alliance.
South Korea's Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon said the meeting was not unusual.
The health of North Korea's totalitarian leader is of keen interest because he has not publicly named a successor. Kim inherited leadership of the Stalinist nation when his father, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, died in 1994 after being groomed for the post for 20 years.
Xinhua said Wang is in Pyongyang to strengthen economic and trade links with North Korea.