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Kim Jong-un takes 4-day trip to China to meet Xi

Jan 09,2019
이미지뷰
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appears with his wife Ri Sol-ju in Pyongyang Station in Pyongyang before leaving for China on Monday. The North’s state media Rodong Sinmun reported Tuesday that Kim left for China for a four-day visit. [KCNA/YONHAP]
이미지뷰
Cars in the motorcade of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un leave from Beijing Railway Station in Beijing on Tuesday.[AFP/YONHAP]
Kick-starting the year with a burst of diplomacy, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is on a trip to Beijing for talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, an opportunity for the two sides to strategize ahead of a possible second summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump.

The North’s official Rodong Sinmun reported on its front page Tuesday that Kim, accompanied by his wife Ri Sol-ju and top aides, kicked off a four-day visit to China Monday at the invitation of Xi.

This marks Kim’s fourth trip to China in the last nine months. His first summit with Xi was a surprise visit to Beijing last March, which was also the first time the North Korean leader left his country since he took power in late 2011 after the death of his father.

On this trip, Kim is accompanied by “leading” officials including Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee who has been leading denuclearization talks with the United States, Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho and Defense Minister No Kwang-chol, reported the Rodong Sinmun and Korean Central News Agency.

Other officials named by the media were seasoned diplomat Ri Su-yong, a vice chairman of the Workers’ Party’s Central Committee and director of the party’s International Affairs Department, and Pak Thae-song, a vice chairman for science and education of the Workers’ Party. The leader’s younger sister and closest aide Kim Yo-jong, a first vice director of the Central Committee, was also spotted aboard the train in video footage.

The Rodong Sinmun on its front page featured a photo of Kim Jong-un and Ri Sol-ju departing Pyongyang, with officials seeing them to their private train Monday afternoon. It is rare for North Korean media to report so promptly the movement of their leader, especially when he is traveling out of the country. Usually coverage only starts after the leader returns safely to North Korea. South Korean media also reported Monday night that a private armored train believed to be Kim’s was embarking on an overnight trip to China. Chinese state media confirmed Kim’s visit Tuesday morning even before his arrival. The two countries’ state media are seen to have coordinated the announcement. Kim’s green train was spotted arriving at the Beijing Railway Station a little before 11 a.m. local time Tuesday.

A limousine thought to be carrying Kim escorted by a motorcade headed downtown toward the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse soon after. It is expected Kim will hold a summit with Xi in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing and attend a welcome banquet.

During their talks, the two leaders could discuss strategy ahead of a second North-U.S. summit, which could take place later this month or in February. Kim may also seek China’s support amid tight international and U.S. sanctions on North Korea. Tuesday also marked Kim’s 35th birthday.

Diplomatic sources in Beijing said that Kim’s fourth trip to China came at the request of the North Korean leader and that Pyongyang had initially requested a visit in December but that it was pushed to early January because of Xi’s tight domestic schedule.

In a New Year’s address, Kim noted the need to “actively promote multi-party negotiations” to replace the current cease-fire on the Korean Peninsula “with a peace mechanism in close contact with the signatories to the armistice agreement.”

China, as one of the signatories to the armistice agreement, has been emphasizing it should be involved in the process to bring a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War.

Kim’s remark suggests bringing Beijing into negotiations to establish a peace process on the Korean Peninsula, currently revolving around the United States and the two Koreas.

A declaration to end the Korean War, a formal peace treaty and the establishment of bilateral relations between North Korea and the United States are seen as the kind of security guarantees that can be offered by Washington to Pyongyang if it denuclearizes.

In his New Year’s address, Kim said he is ready to meet with Trump “anytime.” Last week, Trump confirmed he had received a personal letter recently from Kim, and told reporters Sunday that a location for a second summit will be announced “in the not too distant future.”

U.S. and Chinese officials are also holding trade talks in Beijing this week after agreeing on a temporary truce to their trade war last month. Trump has at times linked the U.S.-China trade war with the North Korea issue, but told reporters Sunday, “We’re doing very well with North Korea, and we’re also doing very well with China on trade.”

Kim made two visits to China before his June 12 summit with Trump, and one after the Singapore summit.

Kim visited Beijing on his train from March 25 to 28 for his first summit with President Xi, an opportunity to thaw frozen North Korea-China ties.

Their second meeting took place in Dalian in Liaoning Province over May 7 and 8. Kim flew to China’s northeastern coastal city on his private jet Chammae-1, a Soviet-era Ilyushin-62M jet.

The third summit took place on June 19 and 20 in Beijing, and again, Kim flew on his private jet.

The two leaders and their spouses have been building closer ties for the past nine months. Kim’s fourth trip marks his longest sojourn to China yet.

He is accompanied by a sizeable entourage, which could explain why he picked train over plane this time.

Xi is expected to make a visit to Pyongyang later this year, as the two countries mark the 70th anniversary of establishing diplomatic ties.

Kim also sent a letter to South Korean President Moon Jae-in in late December apologizing for not being able to make a visit to Seoul within the year as discussed at their summit in Pyongyang last September.

He called for more frequent inter-Korean meetings this year.

South Korea’s Blue House on Tuesday confirmed that it has been notified by both North Korea and China ahead of the Kim’s Beijing visit and has been “sharing information with both countries.”

“We look forward that the exchanges between China and North Korea will contribute to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and establishment of permanent peace,” said Kim Eui-kyeom, the Blue House spokesman, in a briefing.

“Inter-Korean, North-China and North-U.S. exchanges are underway, and we anticipate that this will lead to a virtuous cycle in which progress in each exchange will lend to progress in the other relations,” continued spokesman Kim. “We especially hope that this North-China exchange will be a stepping stone toward a second North-U.S. summit.”

Likewise, Noh Kyu-duk, the spokesman of the South Korean Foreign Ministry, said Tuesday, “Our government is continuously working to push for inter-Korean, North-China and North-U.S. exchanges and denuclearization negotiations to happen in a mutual, virtuous cycle.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]