Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 13 November 2019

China's President Xi arrives in North Korea for talks with Kim Jong-un

This is their fifth meeting since Kim entered nuclear diplomacy with the US and South Korea early last year

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting in Dalian, China, 08 May 2018. EPA
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting in Dalian, China, 08 May 2018. EPA

Chinese President Xi Jinping held talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Thursday after arriving on a two-day state visit in which the stalled negotiations with Washington over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons are expected to be high on the agenda.

Mr Xi is the first Chinese president to visit North Korea in 14 years after relations between the Cold War-era allies deteriorated over Pyongyang's nuclear provocations and Beijing's subsequent backing of UN sanctions. He was accompanied by his wife, Peng Liyuan, and several Communist Party officials.

A photo posted by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV showed a large welcoming contingent including a military band at the airport in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. A 21-gun salute was fired before the pair drove into the city together, standing in a convertible Mercedes-Benz past tens of thousands of cheering residents lining the streets and more waving from their windows.

Pyongyang always puts on an impressive show when a foreign leader visits, but in an unprecedented move, Mr Xi was welcomed at the Kumsusan Palace, the mausoleum where the preserved bodies of the North's founder Kim Il-sung and his successor Kim Jong-il – the grandfather and father of the current leader – lie in state.

The summit comes as China and North Korea are locked in separate disputes with the United States.

China's own trade negotiations with Washington hit a wall last month, and analysts say Mr Xi is now looking for leverage before his meeting with Mr Trump at next week's G20 summit in Japan.

North Korea's nuclear talks with the US are at a standstill. Mr Kim told his country's key diplomatic supporter and main provider of trade and aid that he was "willing to be patient", Chinese state media reported, but wanted "the parties concerned" to meet him halfway.

A Xinhua commentary said China could play a unique and constructive role in breaking the cycle of mistrust between North Korea and the US so they can work out a road map to achieve denuclearisation.

The US is demanding North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons development before international sanctions are lifted. North Korea is seeking a step-by-step approach where a move towards its denuclearisation would be matched by a concession from the US, notably a relaxation of economic sanctions.

China backs what it calls a "suspension for suspension" proposal. Xinhua said both sides "need to have reasonable expectations and refrain from imposing unilateral and unrealistic demands".

Pyongyang wants to demonstrate to the US that it has China's support after Mr Trump and Mr Kim's second summit in Hanoi in February broke up without a deal.

The visit "will serve to show the US that China has its back and to send a message to Washington it should stop its maximum pressure posture", Lim Eul-chul, professor of North Korean studies at Kyungnam University, told Associated Press.

Thae Yong-ho, a former North Korean ambassador to the UK who defected, said Mr Kim may offer some kind of compromise on his country's nuclear facilities to set up a third summit with the US president. Mr Thae was in Tokyo to promote the Japanese translation of his book.

Talks between the US and North Korea have been stalled since Mr Kim and Mr Trump's meeting in Hanoi.

Experts say Mr Xi will likely endorse North Korea's calls for an incremental disarmament process. His is meeting Mr Kim for the fifth time since the North Korean leader entered nuclear diplomacy with the United States and South Korea early last year.

In an essay published in both countries' official media before his trip, Mr Xi praised North Korea for moving in the "right direction" by politically resolving issues on the peninsula. He did not mention Mr Kim's nuclear diplomacy with the US in the article, much of which focused on lauding the neighbours' seven-decade relationship. Mr Xi said his visit will "strengthen strategic communication and exchange" between the traditional, though sometimes strained, allies.

The nations fought together in the 1950-53 Korean War against the United States, South Korea and their allies, but there has been friction in recent years, especially over the North's relentless push for nuclear weapons.

Updated: June 20, 2019 07:12 PM

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