North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visits China in first foreign trip since taking power

Images shown on Chinese state TV show Kim meeting with China's Xi Jinping in Beijing, where the two discussed the 'goal of denuclearisation of the [Korean] peninsula'

Jeremy B. White
Wednesday 28 March 2018 01:09 BST
Kim Jong-un visits Beijing

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in an unofficial visit to Beijing, according to state media.

The confirmation of the visit capped days of speculation that were fuelled by images of a mysterious train arriving in the Chinese capital city.

Despite recent sanctions, China is isolated North Korea's closest economic ally, and the visit represents the first time Mr Kim is known to have left North Korea since assuming power.

Analysts saw the visit as a key step towards crucial talks between Mr Kim and his counterparts in South Korea and the US, scheduled for April and May respectively. It was widely expected that North Korea would confer with China before those talks.

But perhaps most significantly, Chinese state media said Mr Kim reiterated his view that North Korea could discuss "denuclearisation" in the months ahead.

The government-aligned Chinese outlet Xinhua said the two leaders praised ties between their countries and cited Mr Xi as lauding “positive changes” that “had taken place on the Korean Peninsula since this year”.

Mr Kim said he was satisfied to have reached an agreement with Mr Xi on a number of issues of mutual interest and that friendly bilateral ties were a “common strategic choice”, the North Korean state news agency KCNA reported.

In his meeting with Mr Kim, the Chinese president stressed the “goal of denuclearisation of the [Korean] peninsula, safeguarding peace and stability on the peninsula and solving problems through dialogue and consultation”.

As North Korea has rattled the world with belligerent language and a series of intercontinental ballistic missile tests, China has both condemned North Korea aggression and chastised America and its allies for escalating the situation. Beijing has called for an end with joint US-South Korean military drills that Pyongyang views as provocations.

But while China supported tougher UN sanctions on North Korea and suspended imports of coal, iron ore, seafood and textiles, the official reports from both countries of the visit depicted warm ties between the two leaders in an effort to downplay recent tensions.

In these reports, "Kim reaffirms the traditional friendship between the two countries as if nothing had ever happened, when the relationship had plummeted to unprecedented lows", said Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

Mr Kim was described by Xinhua as saying that his country wants to transform ties with South Korea into "a relationship of reconciliation and cooperation".

The two Koreas are still technically at war because their 1950-53 war ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

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The recent moves towards detente began when North Korea used the recent Winter Olympics in South Korea to send emissaries and engage in talks with its southern neighbour. Those efforts culminated in Mr Kim inviting Donald Trump to an unprecedented meeting between the two leaders, which Mr Trump accepted.

Mr Kim told Mr Xi that North Korea is willing to hold a summit with the United States, according to Xinhua, something which has still not been confirmed by North Korean media but which South Korea said had been offered.

Mr Kim pledged in a missive floating those negotiations to suspend nuclear and weapons tests, did not call for a halt in military exercises and said he was “committed to denuclearisation”, according to a top South Korean official.

In a speech at a banquet in China, Mr Kim described the traditional allies as inseparable "neighbouring brothers" with a relationship moulded by a "sacred mutual fight" to achieve socialist ideals, according to KCNA.

The North Korean agency said Mr Kim also called for more meetings with Mr Xi and other Chinese officials to deepen the ties between the countries and also asked Mr Xi to visit North Korea at a time convenient for him, which Mr Xi "gladly accepted".

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