North Korea's Kim ends China visit as Trump summit looms

Leroy Wright
January 10, 2019

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un wrapped up his four-day visit to China on Wednesday after holding talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and touring an economic zone, while the U.S. maintains its silence over the two leaders' meeting.

The visit was Kim Jong Un's fourth to North Korea's primary diplomatic and economic ally since previous year, and raises speculation that Kim was coordinating with China ahead of a possible second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. Neither Chinese nor North Korean state media have disclosed details of the visit. US President Donald Trump, who often comments on diplomatic issues and his accomplishments via Twitter, had not mentioned the summit between Kim and Xi as of Wednesday.

The US is refraining from negative comments on Kim's trip because China has been tough on the enforcement of United Nations sanctions against North Korea and trade talks with Beijing are going smoothly, said Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.

Given the limited speeds of the heavily fortified Kim uses to travel, it could takes 12 to 14 hours for him to reach the Chinese border city of Dandong, about 840 kilometres away, meaning he might spend the night in one of its luxury carriages before returning home.

Yonhap said Kim met with Xi for about an hour Tuesday and later attended a dinner at the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing hosted by Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan.

The outlet previously reported that Kim's trip would last from Monday through to Thursday.

Relations between China and North Korea had deteriorated in recent years over Pyongyang's nuclear activities, but Kim has made sure to keep Xi informed about his dealings with the United States and South Korea as ties appear to have warmed.

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"In order to resist the high pressure of the USA, he must communicate with Xi in advance to see what steps he can take to deal with Trump", Mr Hua said. "Kim also made the visit as a gesture that he wouldn't beg for an early North Korea-US summit", said Cha Du-hyeogn, a visiting scholar at Seoul's Asan Institute for Policy Studies. He said Beijing remains supportive of efforts to end tensions over US demands for a halt to North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

Mr Kim chose China for his maiden official trip overseas a year ago before holding meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Mr Trump. "If he wants to shift his focus to the development of the economy, he needs China's cooperation", said Mr Lu Chao, a North Korea expert at China's Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences. China also wants the sanctions to be relaxed.

The visit coincided with negotiations between USA and Chinese officials in Beijing to resolve a bruising trade war between the world's two biggest economies.

Analysts here said the North Korean leader is seeking to strengthen its negotiating position by aligning the country and China ahead of his meeting with Trump.

The official Global Times newspaper said Kim's visit on his birthday demonstrates the "close relationship" between the two leaders.

Kim added that the ongoing US-China trade talks seem to be Trump's priority more than any other issue at the moment.

During his annual New Year's Day address last week, Kim said it was his "firm will" that North Korea will no longer produce or test nuclear weapons.

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