Kim Jong-un has arrived in Beijing for talks with the Chinese president ahead of a possible denuclearisation summit with President Trump.
A train presumably carrying Kim was spotted late Monday night in the Chinese border city of Dandong, where security was suddenly tightened.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and wife Ri Sol Ju inspect an honor guard before leaving Pyongyang for a visit to China on January 7, 2019.
Kim's arrival in Beijing, on his birthday no less, underscores just how important China is, and always has been, in the North Korean leader's eyes.
Past year marked unprecedented progress in denuclearization talks, with Kim holding summits with Trump, Xi, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Behind the scenes, however, the White House has gradually taken a softer stance toward the North, with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence reportedly scrapping a planned speech last month that would have criticized the human rights abuses by the Kim regime - a cancellation that was due, at least in part, to concerns over angering or alienating Pyongyang and further derailing stalled denuclearization talks with Washington. Moon has expressed hopes for another meeting with Kim soon, ideally held in Seoul to fulfill Kim's promise to pay a historic visit to the South Korean capital. "We are aware of the fact that Kim is visiting China, and we are closely monitoring the situation", Moon's office said.
As a tit-for-tat tariff war waged by Trump early previous year has shown signs of choking China's economic growth, Xi "really wants to resolve the trade dispute with the United States", the diplomat said, adding, "North Korea can be a very good bargaining chip". -North Korea summit in talks in Beijing on Tuesday, Yonhap news agency said, days after Kim warned he may take an alternative path if the United States does not ease sanctions.
Neither KCNA nor Xinhua provided further information on Kim's itinerary, though South Korea's Hankyoreh newspaper said on Monday that he will meet with China's Xi for a fourth summit.
While no details were released about an agenda in China, the North Korean leader has been seeking relief from sanctions, a peace declaration to formally end the 1950-1953 Korean War and more investment.
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It is hoped that the US and South Korea can accurately understand the constructive significance of amicable China-North Korea ties to push ahead with denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
South Korean newspaper Munhwa Ilbo reported that State Department officials recently met multiple times with North Korean counterparts in Hanoi to plan the summit, fuelling speculation that Vietnam could host the event.
Kim would return to China twice: once before his summit meeting with U.S. President Donald J. Trump in Singapore in May and once after, in June.
"Kim will take advantage of the trade and other disputes between the USA and China, he is also going to take advantage of Trump's domestic troubles and squeeze compromise from Trump in the next meeting". "China has actually been a good partner in our efforts to reduce the risk to the world from North Korea's nuclear capability; I expect they will continue to do so".
Washington is pressing the North to offer up a detailed accounting of its nuclear arsenal, while Pyongyang says it has already done enough and it is time for the USA to ease harsh worldwide sanctions that hold back the North Korean economy. "Kim will coordinate his USA policy with Xi before talking to Trump, like he did before the June 2018 summit".
On Monday, the first day of the two-day vice ministerial-level trade talks, the USA missile destroyer sailed near a group of islands in the waters claimed by China, as part of the Pentagon's "freedom of navigation" operation aimed at challenging Beijing's military activities there.
In his New Year's address, Kim said he is ready to meet with Trump "anytime".
"The Chinese have been very clear to us that these are separate issues", Pompeo said.