Author: Lily Kuo
Posted on: The Guardian | March 28th, 2018
China has confirmed that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, has visited Beijing, where he met the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, and pledged his commitment to denuclearising the Korean peninsula.
Confirming several reports over the last two days, Xinhua state news agency said Kim had been in China on an “unofficial visit” from Sunday to Wednesday.
According to Xinhua, Kim told Xi the situation on the Korean peninsula was “starting to get better”. He said: “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 added that the issue of denuclearisation could be resolved if South Korea and the US “respond to our efforts with goodwill, create an atmosphere of peace and stability”.
After years of provocations and missile tests, Pyongyang has made an unexpected effort in diplomacy recently. Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, led a delegation to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, last month that led to direct talks with South Korea.
Kim is expected to meet with the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, in April and hold a summit with the US president, Donald Trump, possibly in May. On his visit to Beijing, Kim reportedly said he was willing to “have dialogue” with the US.
“This is a positive political signal that Pyongyang is ready for more dialogue,” said Michael Kovrig, senior adviser for north-east Asia at the International Crisis Group, an independent conflict-prevention organisation.
“But the challenge will be creating the trust and conditions under which Kim would actually feel secure enough to denuclearise, while remaining vigilant on proliferation and deterrence. That won’t be easy.”
The White House said China had briefed the US on the visit on Tuesday and that Xi had sent Trump a personal message. “We see this development as further evidence that our campaign of maximum pressure is creating the appropriate atmosphere for dialogue with North Korea,” the White House said in a statement.
The visit by Kim to Beijing also marks the North Korean leader’s first trip to China since coming to power in 2011, as well as his first state visit. Kim had not been invited to Beijing nor had he met Xi before now.
Analysts believe China is eager not to be sidelined in any talks between North Korea and the US as well as with South Korea.
China is North Korea’s closest ally, having fought with North Korea against the South during the Korean war, but relations have been strained as China has supported international sanctions against Pyongyang for its nuclear programme.
China accounts for more than 90% of North Korea’s overall trade and also provides food aid and energy assistance to Pyongyang. North Korea’s black market of electronics, fuel, and other goods comes mostly from China.
Describing the visit as his “solemn duty”, Kim said, according to North Korea’s state news agency, KCNA, that “there is no question that my first foreign visit is to the Chinese capital”.
The visit was shrouded in secrecy. Reports of the arrival of an armoured trainsimilar to that used by Kim’s father when he visited China in 2011 sparked speculation that the younger Kim could be in China.
Despite the presence of a heavily guarded motorcade in Beijing and extra security around the North Korean embassy, Chinese officials dodged questions about the visit. Past visits by North Korean leaders were not confirmed by China or North Korea until the dignitary had left the country.
Under Kim, the annual frequency of high-level exchanges has been low, compared with visits during the tenure of former Chinese leader Hu Jintao and Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, according to an analysis of state visits by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies’s project, Beyond Parallel.
Kovrig cautioned that Kim’s talk of denuclearisation should be taken with a grain of salt and seen as an expression of long-term political intent. “It’s highly unlikely North Korea would abandon its nuclear deterrent without significant changes in its relationship with the US and the regional security situation,” he said.
Xi reportedly accepted an invitation from Kim to make an official visit to North Korea “at a convenient time”. In Beijing, Kim and his wife, Ri Sol-ju, met Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, where they attended a welcome banquet and watched an art performance.
“We speak highly of this visit,” Xi told Kim, according to Xinhua.