Beijing (AFP) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met his Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing Tuesday to brief his sole major ally on his unprecedented summit with US President Donald Trump.
Kim’s third trip to China since March comes as Beijing tries to strengthen its role as a mediator between the US and North Korea, where it claims compelling security and economic interests.
The North’s leader, who is believed to have landed in the Chinese capital Tuesday morning, met Xi at Beijing’s ornate Great Hall of the People, according to state broadcaster CCTV.
The young autocrat was given a full ceremonial welcome, including a military revue and a gaggle of adoring children shouting out welcomes.
During the meeting, the two leaders discussed the prospects for denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula as well as the potential for developing the North’s economy, CCTV reported.
The United States relies on China to enforce UN sanctions against the North, giving Beijing potential leverage in a looming trade war with Washington.
Kim will be in Beijing through Wednesday, state media previously reported.
“We hope this visit will help deepen the China-DPRK (North Korea) relations and strengthen our strategic communication on major issues to promote regional peace and stability,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular press briefing.
The visit is Kim’s third to China since March, when he made his inaugural foreign trip as leader.
Previous trips had been kept secret until Kim returned home. It was not clear why Chinese state media broke with the precedent.
In addition to discussing last week’s Singapore summit, Kim is expected to ask China for help in easing economic sanctions in return for his pledge to denuclearise, according to Wang Dong, an international relations expert at Peking University.
“The Chinese and North Korean leaders are carrying out consultations on how to jointly move the Korean nuclear issue forward,” Wang said.
Following the historic summit on June 12, China suggested the UN Security Council could consider easing the economic restrictions on its Cold War-era ally.
China may not have been at the table for the historic summit in Singapore but it retains strong influence behind the scenes, Wang said.
The visit shows that China is “key” to the talks, the analyst added. “It reflects that China is indispensible to the entire Korean nuclear issue.”
– ‘Differences ahead’ –
In a joint statement with Trump following the Singapore summit, Kim pledged to “work toward the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”.
Trump hailed this as a concession but critics said the stock phrase long used by Pyongyang stopped short of longstanding US demands for North Korea to give up its atomic arsenal in a “verifiable” and “irreversible” way.
It is now urgent for Xi and Kim to discuss how North Korea will work towards meeting US demands, said Beijing-based international relations commentator Hua Po.
“There may be differences ahead between the DPRK and the US in regards to denuclearisation, because the US wants irreversible and verifiable denuclearisation. It may be difficult for Kim Jong Un to accept,” Hua told AFP.
“Therefore, both China and the DPRK want to strengthen communication and form an overall strategy to deal with the United States going forward,” Hua added.
In return for the denuclearisation pledge, Trump made the shock announcement that he would stop joint military drills with South Korea, long seen as a provocation by Pyongyang and Beijing.
Analysts saw this as a clear sign of Beijing’s influence.
Beijing has repeatedly called for a “suspension for suspension” approach where the North would stop its nuclear and missile tests in exchange for the US and South Korea halting military exercises.
Washington had previously rebuffed the proposal. But on Tuesday, the US and South Korean militaries confirmed they have called off a scheduled major joint exercise following Trump’s order.
Trump had raised eyebrows by describing the exercises as “provocative” — a term used by the North.