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By Jon Herskovitz
SEOUL, May 3 North Korean leader Kim Jong-il went to China, South Korean media reported on Monday, for a trip that could revive international talks on ending Pyongyang's atomic ambitions in exchange for aid and better global standing.
The following are some scenarios that may play out following Kim Jong-il's trip.
DIPLOMACY HEADS BACK ON TRACK
* Kim Jong-il returns after receiving some economic sweeteners and investment from China, his state's biggest benefactor and only major ally.
* China, the host of the talks that include the two Koreas, Japan, Russia and the United States, then announces a date for resuming discussions.
* Talks may soon stall if North Korea does not resume taking apart its plutonium-producing Yongbyon nuclear arms plant and allowing international inspectors back.
STRENGTH THROUGH STATUS QUO
* The three countries which favour putting pressure on North Korea -- the United States, Japan and South Korea -- can keep the upper hand on Pyongyang by pushing for enforcement of existing U.N. sanctions while their own unilateral measures have added more trouble for the North's already wobbly economy.
* Talks may stall then, North Korea stews, and the Obama administration can spend more time on other issues.
* North Korea hates being ignored and may try to rattle the region with military grandstanding.
* A problem for Pyongyang is that its more recent small-scale skirmishes with the South and firing of missiles are winning less attention from the outside world.
* The North may be forced to take more drastic moves to be noticed and, crucially, bolster support for leader Kim among his military. This would increase the chances of a third North Korean nuclear test. [ID:nTOE62E044]
* That, in turn, would worry investors in North Asia, responsible for one-sixth of the global economy, dampening sentiment and causing brief drops in the South Korean won and the Seoul bourse. But market players have said it would take the threat of a major military confrontation to cause lasting harm.
THE ELEVATOR RIDE
* North Korea may roll back part of the threat it poses to the region in the hope of winning aid to prop up its economy. That would also finance an ambitious project at home to build a "great and prosperous nation" by 2012 -- the 100th anniversary of the birth of state founder Kim Il-sung.
* The North, as it has often done, may later step away from its disarmament pledges and make threats that shake security.
* Most analysts do not expect Kim to ever give up nuclear arms, seen in Pyongyang as worth the immense sacrifice because they have deterred a feared U.S. invasion and are the most powerful symbol of Kim's military-first rule.
(Editing by Jonathan Thatcher and Sanjeev Miglani)