North Korean leader Kim Jong Un began a two-day visit to Beijing Tuesday in what analysts believe is a trip to brief his sole major ally on his unprecedented summit with US President Donald Trump and seek consensus on negotiations with Washington.
The outing comes as China has sought to strengthen its role as a mediator between the US and North Korea, where Beijing claims compelling security and economic interests.
The North’s leader, who is believed to have landed in the Chinese capital Tuesday morning, was expected to head to the Great Hall of the People to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, though no official agenda was released.
Dozens of security vans, police cars and armoured vehicles lined streets around Beijing’s Diaoyutai State Guesthouse — where Kim had stayed in his previous visit.
A motorcade accompanying a black limousine was seen leaving the compound late Tuesday afternoon as police cleared the way. A plainclothes officer grabbed an AFP video journalist and demanded that the footage be deleted.
The visit comes as the United States, which relies on China to enforce sanctions against Pyongyang, stands on the brink of a potential trade war with Beijing, adding an extra layer of uncertainty and a possible pressure point to be exploited by North Korea’s powerful ally.
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported that Kim would be in Beijing through Wednesday.
“We hope this visit will help deepen the China-DPRK relations and strengthen our strategic communication on major issues to promote regional peace and stability,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular press briefing.
The visit is the North Korean autocrat’s third to China since March, when he made his inaugural foreign trip as leader.
Previous trips had been kept secret until Kim returned home. It was not clear why Chinese state media broke with the precedent.
In addition to discussing last week’s summit, Kim is expected to ask China for help in easing economic sanctions, in return for his pledge to denuclearise, according to Wang Dong, an international relations expert at Peking University.
“The Chinese and North Korean leaders are carrying out consultations on how to jointly move the Korean nuclear issue forward.”
Following the historic US-North Korea summit in Singapore a week ago, China suggested the UN Security Council could consider easing the economic restrictions on its Cold War-era ally.
China may not have been at the table for the historic summit in Singapore but it retains strong influence behind the scenes, Dong said.
The visit shows that China is “key” to the talks, Wang said.
“It reflects that China is indispensible to the entire Korean nuclear issue.”