March 28, 2018 12:07
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un secretly visited China on Monday to hold a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Both North Korean and Chinese state media officially confirmed the visit after waiting until Wednesday morning when Kim returned to Pyongyang after the summit.
"It was believed that Kim traveled to Beijing aboard his personal train, met with Xi and returned to North Korea aboard the same train," a government official here said earlier on Tuesday.
The two leaders apparently wanted to lay some groundwork and steal the thunder ahead of the U.S.-North Korea summit set for May. Observers believe China is attempting to improve frayed relations with North Korea and try to influence U.S.-led efforts to get the North to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
This was the first time that the North Korean leader has traveled outside of his country since rising to power in 2012. Amid growing international isolation as sanctions bite, Kim made his diplomatic debut on the international scene through his visit to China. The last North Korean leader to visit China was Kim Jong-il in 2011.
Kim crossed the border with China aboard a special train on Sunday night and arrived in Beijing on Monday. He met with Xi there for about three hours.
Beijing apparently wanted to have a summit with Kim shortly after the U.S.-North Korea summit was announced in early March. "It appears that China is seeking to improve its ties with North Korea ahead of the U.S.-North Korea summit and gain leverage in negotiations with the U.S.," said Hwang Jae-ho at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.
China's relations with North Korea chilled quickly after Beijing joined U.S.-led efforts to intensify sanctions against the North. Kim snubbed Chinese President Xi Jinping's envoy Song Tao, who visited the North in November last year.
Now there are concerns that the China-North Korea summit could lead to a weakening of international sanctions against the North. The North Korean leader stayed in Beijing only for 24 hours, but experts said the entire framework of the upcoming talks with North Korea could change according to the agreements that may have been reached between them.
Frayed relations between the U.S. and China due to a trade dispute between the two sides could also affect the talks.
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