Beijing Confirms Visit of North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un to China

Beijing Confirms Visit of North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un to China
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (L) being broadcast on a large video screen in Tokyo as pedestrians walk past following a North Korean missile test that passed over Japan on September 15, 2017, and China's President Xi Jinping (C) at the Great Hall of People in Beijing on April 20, 2017. (FRED DUFOUR,TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)

SEOUL, South Korea—The Chinese government confirmed Wednesday that North Korea’s reclusive leader Kim Jong Un went to Beijing and met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in his first known trip to a foreign country since he took power in 2011.

The official Xinhua News Agency said Kim made an unofficial visit to China from Sunday to Wednesday.

Xi held talks with Kim at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing and he and his wife Peng Liyuan hosted a banquet for Kim and his wife Ri Sol Ju, Xinhua said. They also watched an art performance together, the news agency said.

Analysts say Kim would have felt a need to consult with his country’s traditional ally ahead of his planned meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Kim Jong Un’s late father, Kim Jong Il, found a strong ally in then-Chinese president Jiang Zemin. Kim Jong Il visited China several times during his rule, lastly in May 2011, months before his death. He also met Jiang in 2000 before a summit between the two Koreas in June that year.

While that visit was seen at the time as reaffirmation of close ties between North Korea and Beijing, the nature of the relationship between Kim Jong Un and President Xi remains to be seen. China’s recent backing of tough U.N. sanctions in response to North Korea’s nuclear threats maybe have added strain to a traditionally close relationship.

The North’s diplomatic outreach came after an unusually provocative year when it conducted its most powerful nuclear test to date and three ICBMs tests designed to target the U.S. mainland.

The developments were interpreted as the North being desperate to break out of isolation and improve its economy after being squeezed by heavy sanctions.

Historic ties within China’s Communist Party remain North Korea’s only major allies, with China being the country’s chief provider of energy, aid and trade that keep its broken economy afloat.

The visit to China marks Kim’s first known trip since taking power in 2011 and his reported meeting with Xi was his first meeting with a foreign head of state.

Past visits by Kim Jong Il to China were surrounded in secrecy, with Beijing only confirming his presence after he had crossed the border by train back into North Korea.

 

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