Chinese President Xi Jinping met Kim Jong Un in China for the second time in six weeks on Tuesday and later spoke with Donald Trump, in an intensifying whirlwind of diplomacy as the North Korean and US leaders prepare for a historic summit.
Kim reiterated his commitment to the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula during his meeting with Xi, and the Chinese leader later in a phone call urged Trump to take the North Korean leader’s security concerns into consideration.
Kim’s unannounced trip to the northeastern port city of Dalian was his second visit to Chinasince March, highlighting efforts by the Cold War-era allies to mend relations that cooled as Beijing supported UN sanctions over Pyongyang’s rogue nuclear weapon programme.
Beijing is keen to avoid being left out in the cold in the diplomatic manoeuvres that led to Kim’s historic summit last month with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his expected meeting with Trump in June.
But Kim’s second trip abroad in such a short time — having never previously left North Korea since coming to power in 2011 — shows that Beijing still has a central role to play in the diplomatic shuffle.
“After the first meeting between me and Comrade Chairman (Kim), both China-DPRK relations and the Korean peninsula situation have made positive progress. I feel happy about it,” Xi said, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
— Channel NewsAsia (@ChannelNewsAsia) May 8, 2018
North Korea’s official KCNA news agency said Xi and Kim “exchanged warm greetings, unable to hold back joy at meeting again”.
“The respected leader (Kim) also expressed pleasure at the bilateral ties that are enjoying a new heyday, and praised that the high-level exchanges and strategic communication between the two countries have reached an unprecedented level,” according to KCNA.
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV showed Xi and Kim taking a seaside stroll and holding talks in a conference room with several officials. Xinhua said the two leaders met on Monday and Tuesday.
According to Xinhua, Kim told Xi there was no need for North Korea to be a nuclear state “as long as relevant parties abolish their hostile policies and remove security threats against the DPRK”.
Nuclear power is not a must-have for the DPRK and denuclearization is achievable as long as relevant parties eliminate hostile policies and security threats toward the DPRK: Kim told Xi in Dalian pic.twitter.com/mTw6Mlv33S
— People's Daily,China (@PDChina) May 8, 2018
Kim also expressed hope that the US and North Korea would take “phased and synchronous measures” to achieve denuclearisation and peace, Xinhua said, signalling Pyongyang’s demands for a quid pro quo.
The North has long demanded the withdrawal of US troops from the peninsula and an end to its nuclear umbrella over South Korea.
Trump said last week that he was not envisaging a drawdown of troops in South Korea for now, but he admitted it was a possibility in the longer term.
In their phone call, Xi told Trump he “hopes the US and North Korea can work together, build mutual trust” and “consider North Korea’s reasonable security concerns,” according to CCTV.
The US side said Xi and Trump agreed to keep economic pressure on North Korea.
“President Trump and President Xi agreed on the importance of continued implementation of sanctions on North Korea until it permanently dismantles its nuclear and missile programmes,” the White House said in a statement.
Japanese media had earlier shown images of an airplane normally used by North Korean VIPs flying out of Dalian, fuelling speculation that Kim had been in town.
Kim’s use of a plane shows that he did not inherit his father and predecessor’s fear of flying and suggests he could be willing to meet with Trump in a third country, with reports saying Singapore is a possible destination.
Kim travelled to Beijing by train in March for his maiden official trip abroad and first meeting with the Chinese president.
Xi backed North Korea’s adherence to the denuclearisation of the peninsula and the dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington, Xinhua said.
He said China was willing to “play an active role in comprehensively advancing the process of peaceful resolution of the peninsula issue through dialogue, and realising long-term peace and stability in the region”.
The Chinese leader also voiced support for North Korea “shifting its strategic focus to economic construction”.
Xinhua said Kim spoke “highly of Xi’s profound vision and extraordinary wisdom” and “expressed his gratitude to China” for its contribution to peace efforts.
Trump-Kim in Singapore?
At their summit last month in the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas, Kim and Moon agreed to pursue the complete denuclearisation of the peninsula.
North and South Korea have also agreed to hold talks with the United States, and possibly China, to reach a peace treaty by the end of the year.
The Korean War, in which China fought on the North’s side, ended in 1953 with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.
China would likely want to be part of discussions on a peace treaty, worrying that the diplomatic thaw may lead to a deal between Pyongyang and Washington that is not in its interests, according to experts.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, meanwhile, will take part in a trilateral summit with Moon and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Wednesday, with the North Korean issue high on the agenda.