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Kim Jong Un’s secret trip to Beijing: China says North Korea pledges denuclearisation

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un made a surprise trip to Beijing where he and Chinese president Xi Jinping sought to portray strong ties between the neighbours.

world Updated: Mar 28, 2018 11:36 IST
Chinese president Xi Jinping walks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in this still image taken from video released on March 28, 2018.
Chinese president Xi Jinping walks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in this still image taken from video released on March 28, 2018. (Reuters)

China said on Wednesday North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to denuclearise the Korean peninsula during a historic meeting in Beijing with president Xi Jinping, who promised China would uphold its friendship with its isolated neighbour.

After two days of speculation, China and North Korea both confirmed on Wednesday that Kim had visited Beijing and met Xi during what China’s official Xinhua news agency called an unofficial visit from Sunday to Wednesday.

The trip was Kim’s first known journey abroad since he assumed power in 2011 and is believed by analysts to serve as preparation for upcoming summits with South Korea and the United States.

North Korea’s KCNA news agency made no mention of Kim’s pledge to denuclearise, or his anticipated meeting with US President Donald Trump that is planned for some time in May.

Read: Kim Jong Un: North Korea’s princeling makes a diplomatic turn, but in reclusive style

Beijing has traditionally been the closest ally of secretive North Korea, but ties have been frayed by North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and China’s backing of tough UN sanctions in response.

Xinhua cited Kim as telling Xi that the situation on the Korean peninsula is starting to improve because North Korea has taken the initiative to ease tensions and put forward proposals for peace talks.

“It is our consistent stand to be committed to denuclearisation on the peninsula, in accordance with the will of late President Kim Il Sung and late General Secretary Kim Jong Il,” Kim Jong Un said, according to Xinhua.

North Korea is willing to talk with the United States and hold a summit between the two countries, he said.

“The issue of denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula can be resolved, if South Korea and the United States respond to our efforts with goodwill, create an atmosphere of peace and stability while taking progressive and synchronous measures for the realisation of peace,” Kim said, according to Xinhua.

Trump briefed

Though billed as an unofficial trip, Kim’s appearance in Beijing contained almost all the trappings of a state visit, complete with an honour guard and banquet at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

Kim and Xi also met at the Diaoyutai State Guest House, where Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, planted a tree in 1959 that still stands to this day.

Read: Kim Jong Un in China? VIP security in Beijing raises speculation

State television showed pictures of the two men chatting amiably and Kim’s wife, Ri Sol Ju, getting an equally warm welcome from Xi’s wife, Peng Liyuan.

Ri Sol Ju, wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, shakes hands with Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping as the two leaders watch, in this still image taken from video released on March 28, 2018. (REUTERS)

China briefed Trump on Kim’s visit and the communication included a personal message from Xi to Trump, the White House said in a statement.

“The United States remains in close contact with our allies South Korea and Japan. We see this development as further evidence that our campaign of maximum pressure is creating the appropriate atmosphere for dialogue with North Korea,” the statement said.

Analysts and former negotiators remain deeply sceptical Kim is willing to give up the nuclear weapons his family has been developing for decades.

‘Solemn duty’

Kim told a banquet hosted by Xi the visit was intended to “maintain our great friendship and continue and develop our bilateral ties at a time of rapid developments on the Korean peninsula”, calling it his “solemn duty” to make Beijing his first overseas destination, according to KCNA.

Read: South Korean President Moon says three-way summit with North Korea, US possible

Xi had accepted an invitation from Kim to visit North Korea, KCNA and South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

Speculation about a possible visit by Kim to Beijing was rife earlier this week after a train similar to the one used by Kim’s father was seen in the Chinese capital, along with heavy security and a large motorcade.

Improving ties between North Korea and China would be a positive sign before planned summits involving the two Koreas and the United States, a senior South Korean official said on Tuesday.

Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, met then-president Jiang Zemin in China in 2000 before a summit between the two Koreas in June that year. That visit was seen at the time as reaffirmation of close ties with Beijing.

However, the relationship between the North and its key protector has soured in recent years, with China increasingly exasperated by its neighbour’s nuclear antics and recently showing a new willingness to enforce United Nations sanctions imposed on it over its weapons and missiles programmes.

“This is my solemn duty as someone who should value and continue the DPRK-PRC relations through generations,” Kim said at the banquet, using the countries’ official acronyms.

Such a trip by a current Chinese Communist Party general secretary and national president would be extremely unusual.

The last such visitor was Hu Jintao in 2005, and the last top Chinese leader to go was the then premier Wen Jiabao in 2009 – although Mao Zedong’s son Mao Anying was killed fighting for the North during the Korean War.