North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has arrived for a two-day visit in China, where he is expected to discuss with Chinese leaders his next steps after his summit with US President Donald Trump.
Kim’s visit beginning on Tuesday is the third trip he made to China in three months, and comes exactly a week after his landmark meeting with the US leader in Singapore on June 12. He visited the city of Dalian in May and Beijing in March.
Trump agreed to work with Kim towards complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, committed to provide the North’s regime with security guarantees and pledged to end “war games”, which Pyongyang and Beijing have long seen as provocative.
On Tuesday South Korea and the Pentagon announced they would halt the annual Freedom Guardian military drill scheduled for August.
In an unusual move, Chinese state media announced Kim’s visit and said he would stay for two days. Previously China would only confirm Kim had visited after he had left the country. No other details were provided.
A Kim trip to China to discuss his summit with Trump had been widely anticipated in diplomatic circles. China is North Korea’s most important diplomatic and economic backer but has been angered by Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests.
Kim reportedly took an Air Koryo flight to Beijing, and headed straight to the Diaoyutai state guest house, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
Chinese President Xi Jinping “is exerting a lot of influence from behind the scenes,” said Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Glaser said it was predictable Xi would want to be briefed by Kim directly about the North Korean leader’s talks with Trump.
“I expect they will talk about the path going forward and where priorities should lie,” Glaser said.
Those priorities, from China’s perspective, would be to ensure that Beijing is included in any peace treaty talks and for creating an environment on the Korean Peninsula that will make it unnecessary for US troops to remain.
Cheng Xiaohe, an associate professor at Renmin University’s School of International Studies in Beijing, said the frequency of Kim’s visits was “unprecedented”. He noted that unlike on previous visits, China’s state broadcaster CCTV announced Kim’s visit before his departure.
“This is an improvement. This shows that China is moving toward a healthier and more normal direction in relations with North Korea,” Cheng said.
Meanwhile, South Korea’s foreign ministry said it is hopeful that KIm’s visit to China will help in the denuclearisation process.
“Our government expects China to play a constructive role in order to resolve the issue,” Noh Kyu-duk, a foreign ministry spokesman, said.