China and North Korea hail close friendship after Kim visit confirmed

North Korean pledges to denuclearise at meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping

After days of speculation China has confirmed that Kim Jong-un has visited the country, his first known trip abroad since assuming power in 2011. Video: CCTV

 

China and North Korea hailed their close friendship after Kim Jong-un chose Beijing for his first foreign trip since he came to power in 2011, with the North Korean leader promising to work towards denuclearising the peninsula.

The Chinese confirmed Mr Kim was indeed on the mystery train that made its way in great secrecy across the border this week to Beijing for talks with president Xi Jinping.

Mr Kim told Mr Xi the situation on the Korean peninsula was “starting to get better”.

China was North Korea’s ally during the Korean War (1950-53) and the two communist nations were close allies, but relations have frayed over the North’s nuclear programme and China’s backing for UN sanctions.

In a lengthy statement, the two leaders set aside their differences to hail their mutual respect and admiration, with Mr Xi saying the two countries maintained close ties “like relatives”.

“Sharing common ideals and beliefs as well as profound revolutionary friendship, the elder generations of leaders of the two countries trusted and supported each other, and wrote a fine story in the history of international relations,” said Mr Xi after meeting Mr Kim.

The visit came ahead of summits planned between the two Koreas in April and a US-North Korea summit in May.

Recent months have seen tensions ease, and South and North Korean athletes marched under a unified flag at the Pyeongchang winter Olympics last month.

In Beijing, Mr Kim signalled his commitment to solving the nuclear crisis. “The issue of denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula can be resolved, if South Korea and the US respond to our efforts with goodwill, create an atmosphere of peace and stability while taking progressive and synchronous measures for the realisation of peace,” said Mr Kim.

For its part, China is keen to play a more active role in the planned meetings, having been sidelined by a flurry of diplomatic activity in recent months from Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington DC.

Vehicle of choice

Mr Xi pledged that China would play a “constructive role” in bringing about a thaw on the Korean peninsula.

The North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the visit lasted from Sunday to Wednesday. Mr Kim was accompanied by his wife Ri Sol-ju and top officials, including key aide Choe Ryong-hae. KCNA also reported that Mr Kim invited Mr Xi to Pyongyang for a visit, and the Chinese leader had accepted.

The delayed report of the meeting is not unusual as previous meetings with top North Korean leaders were also reported after the event. In 2011, Kim’s father Kim Jong-il also travelled to China by train and the event was not immediately reported.

Although China’s foreign ministry described Mr Kim’s visit this week it as “unofficial”, the North Korean leader and his wife stayed at the Diaoyutai guesthouse and held talks at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Mr Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan hosted a banquet for Mr Kim and Ms Ri. Normally North Korean leaders do not take spouses with them on foreign trips.

China also briefed Donald Trump on Mr Kim’s visit and the communication included a personal message from Mr Xi to the US president. China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi will head to Seoul on Thursday to brief South Korean president Moon Jae-in.

The armoured train is the vehicle of choice for the Kim family, as they are said to be suspicious of air travel for security reasons.

Mr Kim’s half-brother Kim Jong-nam was assassinated, apparently by North Korean agents, in February last year at Kuala Lumpur airport.