Chinese President Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un met in China for the second time in six weeks yesterday, signalling their warming ties ahead of the North Korean leader’s expected summit with US President Donald Trump. Shortly after the meeting was made public, Trump tweeted that he would speak to his “friend” Xi about North Korea later yesterday.
Kim’s trip to the northeastern port city of Dalian was his second visit to China since March, highlighting efforts by the Cold War-era allies to mend relations that have chilled as Beijing has supported UN sanctions over Pyongyang’s nuclear activities. Beijing is keen to avoid being left out in the cold in a whirlwind of diplomacy that has led to Kim’s historic summit last month with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his expected meeting with Trump in June.
But Kim’s second trip abroad in such a short time— after having never left North Korea since coming to power in 2011 — shows that Beijing still has a central role to play in the diplomatic shuffle. “After the first meeting between me and Comrade Chairman (Kim), both China-DPRK relations and the Korean peninsula situation have made positive progress. I feel happy about it,” Xi said, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
North Korea’s official KCNA news agency said Xi and Kim “exchanged warm greetings, unable to hold back joy at meeting again”.
“The respected leader (Kim) also expressed pleasure at the bilateral ties that are enjoying a new heyday, and praised that the high-level exchanges and strategic communication between the two countries have reached an unprecedented level,” according to KCNA.
For his part, Trump tweeted that “the primary topics” of his discussion with Xi “will be Trade, where good things will happen, and North Korea, where relationships and trust are building.”
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV showed Xi and Kim taking a seaside stroll and holding talks in a conference room with several officials, while Xinhua said the two leaders met on Monday and yesterday. Japanese media had earlier shown images of an airplane normally used by North Korean VIPs flying out of Dalian, fuelling speculation that Kim had been in town. Kim’s use of a plane shows that he did not inherit his father’s fear of flying and suggests he could be willing to meet with Trump in a third country, with reports saying Singapore is a possible destination.
Kim travelled to Beijing by train in March for his maiden official trip abroad and first meeting with the Chinese president.
Xi said he was willing to meet Kim again, and backed North Korea’s adherence to the denuclearisation of the peninsula and the dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington, Xinhua said. “China is willing to continue to work with all relevant parties and play an active role in comprehensively advancing the process of peaceful resolution of the peninsula issue through dialogue, and realising long-term peace and stability in the region,” Xi said.
The Chinese leader also voiced support for North Korea “shifting its strategic focus to economic construction”. Xinhua said Kim spoke “highly of Xi’s profound vision and extraordinary wisdom” and “expressed his gratitude to China” for its contribution to the denuclearisation and peace efforts. At their summit last month in the Demilitarised Zone dividing the two Koreas, Kim and Moon agreed to pursue the complete denuclearisation of the peninsula.
According to Xinhua, Kim told Xi there was no need for North Korea to be a nuclear state “as long as relevant parties abolish their hostile policies and remove security threats against the DPRK”. Kim also expressed hope that the US and North Korea would take “phased and synchronous measures” to achieve denuclearisation and peace, Xinhua said, signalling Pyongyang’s demands for a quid pro quo.
Trump said last week that he was not envisaging a drawdown of troops in South Korea for now — something the regime in Pyongyang has long wanted —but he admitted it was a possibility in the longer term. North and South Korea have also agreed to hold talks with the United States, and possibly China, to reach a peace treaty by the end of the year. The Korean War, in which China fought on the North’s side, ended in 1953 with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.
China would likely want to be part of discussions on a peace treaty, worrying that the diplomatic thaw may lead to a deal between Pyongyang and Washington that is not in its interests, according to experts. A divided Korea has played in Beijing’s favour as the North serves as a buffer with the South, where US troops are stationed.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, meanwhile, will take part in a trilateral summit with Moon and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo today, with the North Korean issue high on the agenda.
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