Japan's Asahi newspaper reports that the youngest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il secretly visited China last week and his hosts were told he had been appointed heir to the ruling family dynasty.
The report, citing unidentified sources close to North Korea, said Kim Jong-un met Chinese President Hu Jintao and other leaders of the ruling Communist Party when he flew to Beijing around June 10.
Jong-un was believed to have asked China for emergency energy and food aid, the newspaper said, underscoring the grim economic situation in the impoverished state. Jong-un also visited factories in China's export hub of Guangdong province, it added.
The succession has been one of the most closely guarded secrets in North Korea, and very little is known about Jong-un, whose youth could be problem in a society that attaches importance to seniority.