Beijing (CNN) -- Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has met in Beijing with Kim Jong Il, the reclusive leader of North Korea, China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported Thursday.
Kim was widely reported to have been in China, but both countries declined to formally confirm the visit -- even after grainy photos surfaced on websites that appeared to show Kim in China, North Korea's closest ally.
Kim was on his third China visit since last May, the news agency reported. It quoted him as saying that China and North Korea have made "extensive achievements in their trade cooperation in recent years" and that they "took a significant step forward in building a new cross-border bridge over the Yalu River."
Wen said "it is a steadfast principle" of the Chinese government "to consolidate and develop" a friendship between China and North Korea, the Xinhua report said. The news report added that "both sides boosted substantial cooperation in trade and other areas, which have helped promote economic development and improve people's lives in the two countries."
Kim noted that this year marks the 50th anniversary of a friendship and cooperation treaty between North Korea and China, Xinhua reported. He also called on both nations to expand cooperation to "usher in a new era of full-flourish trade cooperation," the news agency said.
South Korean and Japanese media, whose journalists usually doggedly follow the North Korean ruler on such trips, had reported that Kim's special train crossed the border into China Friday. They said the leader started his journey with several stops in the northeast, including a tour at one of the China's biggest automakers.
China usually confirms North Korean officials' visits only after they have returned home.
With heavy sanctions still in place on North Korea after its nuclear and missile tests, analysts have said that the communist nation clearly needs help, especially in light of recent reports that an unusually harsh weather has ruined its winter crops.
"Kim Jong Il wants to get something from South Korea or the U.S. or China -- economic aid or security assurances -- but at the moment he is not getting anything, and China is preventing North Korea from further provocations," Choi Jin-wook of Seoul's Korea Institute of National Unification has said. "Kim wants to know what China is going to do for them."
As a U.S. government delegation traveled Tuesday to North Korea for a four-day trip to assess the food situation, China remained largely quiet on how it would respond to its isolated neighbor's aid requests.
"Over the years China, within its means, has provided some assistance to (North Korea) aimed at helping it improve its people's livelihood and developing its economy," said Jiang Yu, a spokeswoman for China's foreign ministry. "We support international aid projects" in the North.