North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to visit China

The motorcade which is believed to be carrying North Korea leader Kim Jong Un passes by policemen as it leaves the Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, Tuesday, June 19, 2018. Chinese state media say North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will make a two-day state visit starting Tuesday. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

NORTH Korean leader Kim Jong Un is visiting China Tuesday and Wednesday, his first trip outside the country since his summit with US President Donald Trump in Singapore on June 12.

Some had been expecting Kim to visit China to brief President Xi Jinping on his meeting with Trump, the first between a North Korean leader and serving US President.

Kim did not leave his country for the first six years of his rule, but this trip to China, North Korea’s only real ally, will be the young North Korean leader’s third in three months. He travelled to Beijing in late March and to the northeastern city of Dalian in May.

Geng Shuang, a spokesperson with China’s Foreign Ministry, confirmed the visit at a news conference Tuesday hours after it was announced on Chinese state media. He said more information would be released in a “timely manner.”

“We hope this visit will help further deepen bilateral ties, strengthen strategic communication on major issues between the two sides, and promote peace and stability in the region,” Geng said.

It is rare for state media from either Beijing or Pyongyang to announce a trip by North Korea’s leader ahead of time or as it is happening. Kim’s other trips to China this year were revealed after the visits were completed.

By announcing the visit as it is happening, Kim is attempting to “‘normalize’ the way he is viewed by the international community,” said Evans Revere, a senior director with the Albright Stonebridge Group and former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the State Department.

A police-escorted motorcade was spotted on Beijing’s Chang’an Avenue, which runs past Tiananmen Square and near the Great Hall of the People.

It is unclear who is joining Kim on the visit, or how he got to China. Kim took his family’s armoured train to the Chinese capital on his March visit. North Korean state media aired pictures of Kim inside the luxurious train car made famous by his father, who was reportedly afraid of flying.

Kim flew for his second meeting with Xi in Dalian.

China has largely supported the diplomatic detente between Washington and Pyongyang and even supplied Kim with an Air China plane for his journey to Singapore.

The June 12 meeting not only produced the history-making moment when Kim and Trump shook hands, but a written statement agreeing to “build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula” and “to work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

The statement represents a marked change from the saber rattling in 2017, when Trump and Kim traded insults and boasted about the size of their nuclear buttons. While some observers lauded their meeting a step toward peace, others said the written agreement was too vague and noncommittal to be considered a foreign policy victory for Washington.

ALSO READ: FULL TEXT: Trump-Kim signed statement

In a long news conference after the talks, Trump announced the United States would suspend what he called “war games,” a reference to joint US-South Korean military exercises, while negotiations were ongoing. The Pentagon announced Monday that it was suspending planning for August joint military exercises with South Korea and several other allies in the region.

Trump also hinted that he eventually wants US troops on the Korean Peninsula to return home, but said “that’s not part of the equation right now. I hope it will be eventually.”

Those announcements appeared to be music to Beijing’s ears, analysts said, as China has long sought a reduction in the US military presence so close to its border.

“China is almost certainly very pleased with the fact that the US and the ROK (Republic of Korea, South Korea’s official name) have agreed to suspend major bilateral exercises, which has been a longstanding Chinese goal,” said Revere.

“This visit may be China’s way of saying ‘thank you’ to Kim Jong Un for getting President Trump to make this major concession.”

Beijing had previously called for a “freeze-for-freeze” agreement whereby North Korea would halt its nuclear program in return for the US suspending military drills that Pyongyang has long considered practice for war. North Korea and the US initially rejected the proposal.

Revere and other experts expect that Xi and Kim will discuss the punishing sanctions levied on North Korea by the United Nations Security Council during 2017, a key part of Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy to get North Korea to agree to put its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles on the negotiating table.

China hinted after the summit that sanctions could be adjusted, though the Trump administration has maintained they will remain in place until the nuclear issue is resolved.

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