North Korean President Kim Jong Un made a surprise visit to Beijing, China, this week and met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. It was the first time the two met face-to-face and the first time the reclusive leader met with a foreign head of state since assuming power in 2011.
The meeting is the first of three of the most potentially significant meetings of Kim’s tenure. Plans have been made for him to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in next month, and discussions are underway for a summit between Kim and President Trump in May. It would be the first meeting between a sitting U.S. President and a North Korean leader ever.
Although observers note that it would have been highly unusual for Kim to meet with either Moon or Trump without meeting with Xi first, the visit was still a surprise. Plans for the meeting were not announced prior to Kim arriving in Beijing, by train, on Monday. Kim, along with North Korean First Lady Ri Sol Ju, were in Beijing for two days.
Although publicly labeled an unofficial visit, the North Korean leader received full diplomatic treatment of a visiting head of state, including a state dinner at the Great Hall of the People.
“In this spring full of happiness and hopes, I believe my first meeting with General Secretary Xi Jinping will yield abundant fruits of DPRK-China friendship, and facilitate peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” he said in a statement.
Kim began the year by calling for the “melting” of frozen North-South relations and followed up quickly by sending a North Korean athletic delegation to the South Korean Olympic Winter Games last month. Athletes from the two nations marched in the opening ceremony under a unified flag, and also fielded a joint women’s ice hockey team.
A high-ranking delegation from South Korea visited North Korea earlier this month in an attempt to lay the groundwork for talks, which would include the United States, on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. In an extraordinary development, that delegation reported, upon arriving in the U.S. to brief U.S. counterparts several days later, that Kim was not only willing to enter into talks but was willing to meet with Trump face-to-face and suspend his nuclear program.
The Trump administration indicated they would open to such a meeting but that crippling economic sanctions would remain in place on the rogue regime until its nuclear development program is halted. China briefed the Trump administration on its meetings this week with Kim yesterday. The recent develops were welcomed by the U.S. President.
“For years and through many administrations, everyone said that peace and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was not even a small possibility. Now there is a good chance that Kim Jong Un will do what is right for his people and for humanity. Look forward to our meeting!” President Trump wrote on Twitter.
It’s widely believed that Kim was shoring up support ahead of meetings with Moon and Trump. China is North Korea’s foremost trading partner and its only military ally. The gambit seems to have paid off.
“We speak highly of this visit,” Xi told Kim during the visit adding that China “appreciates the important efforts made by the DPRK (Democratic Republic of Korea)” and “positive changes” that have taken place since the beginning of the new year.
Further statements by Xi indicate that China considers itself an equal stakeholder in any negotiations to take place in North or South Korea. “China will continue to play a constructive role on the issue (of talks) and work with all parties, including the DPRK, toward the thaw of the situation on the Peninsula,” he said.