Kim Jong-un follows up landmark US summit with China visit

North Korean leader visits main ally soon after pledge to denuclearise peninsula

 A car believed to be carrying North Korean leader Kim Jong Un enters the Diaoyutai State Guest House in Beijing, China on  June 19th, 2018. Photograph:  Kyodo/via Reuters.

A car believed to be carrying North Korean leader Kim Jong Un enters the Diaoyutai State Guest House in Beijing, China on June 19th, 2018. Photograph: Kyodo/via Reuters.

 

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met China’s president Xi Jinping on the first day of a two-day visit on Tuesday, a show of close ties between the two communist allies one week after a landmark summit in Singapore with Donald Trump.

China’s state-run CCTV showed Mr Kim meeting Mr Xi in the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square. Normally these visits are not announced until they are over.

The visit had been widely anticipated after the summit, and Mr Kim is expected to brief Mr Xi on the talks with Mr Trump, which ended with a promise to denuclearise the Korean peninsula in exchange for security guarantees.

Mr Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan greeted Mr Kim and his wife Ri Sol-ju at the Great Hall, and Mr Kim inspected a guard of honour. The CCTV report quoted Mr Xi saying he welcomed the “positive” outcome to the talks.

“No matter what changes in the international and regional situation, China’s party and government’s resolute position on being dedicated to consolidating and developing Sino-North Korea relations will not change,” he said.

Mr Kim told Mr Xi he hoped to work with China and other countries to push the peace process, CCTV said.

Mr Kim has made three trips to China in the last three months, and the visit in March was his first foreign trip since he took over as leader from his late father Kim Jong-il in 2011.

Mr Kim reportedly arrived on an Air Koryo An-148 aircraft at Beijing’s Capital International Airport on Tuesday morning, and the North Korean leader travelled to the Diaoyutai state guest house in Beijing. He was in a lengthy convoy of vehicles, including an ambulance.

China is North Korea’s most important ally and financial supporter, despite a strain in relations over the North’s nuclear programme and Beijing’s subsequent decision to go along with international sanctions on North Korea.

Facilitator

As ties between Pyongyang and Seoul, and more recently Washington, have improved, China has offered to play the role of facilitator.

Mr Kim is likely to seek Chinese input on the process of denuclearisation and on how quickly sanctions can be lifted now that relations are opening up again.

Beijing has pushed for dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang for years, although it is also careful not to cede too much influence to the US in the region.

It has long seen “dual suspension” as the best first step, where the North would give up its nuclear weapons in return for South Korea and the US suspending joint military manoeuvres, a major irritant to the North Koreans.

The first step from the South Koreans came with the suspension of a major joint drill in summer.

“South Korea and the United States have agreed to suspend all planning activities regarding the Freedom Guardian military drill scheduled for August,” the South Korean defence ministry said in a statement.

Last year, 17,500 American and more than 50,000 South Korean troops took part in Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills. Mr Trump announced he was suspending what he called “war games” after the summit with Mr Kim, to the surprise of defence chiefs in both countries.