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Hamish Macdonald is an NK News contributor and has previously worked at The Korea Herald and for the Australia Centre for Independent Journalism in Sydney.
Chinese state media has, following days of speculation, confirmed that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the past few days.
As part of a visit to China from Sunday to Wednesday, Kim Jong Un reportedly held talks with Xi at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
The visit represents Kim Jong Un’s first abroad since coming to power in 2011 – and the first meeting between a DPRK leader and a Chinese President since 2011.
The two leaders reportedly discussed ongoing inter-Korean rapprochement, with the North Korean leader telling Xi that the situation on the peninsula had improved since the beginning of the year.
“It is our consistent stand to be committed to denuclearization on the peninsula, in accordance with the will of late President Kim Il Sung and late General Secretary Kim Jong Il,” Kim is quoted as having said by Xinhua News Agency.
He also reiterated his support for talks with the United States – though these comments did not appear in North Korean coverage of the event.
“The issue of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula can be resolved, if south Korea and the United States respond to our efforts with goodwill, create an atmosphere of peace and stability while taking progressive and synchronous measures for the realization of peace,” Kim added.
The Chinese President expressed his gratitude to Kim Jong Un for making the visit.
“Both Comrade Chairman and I have personally experienced and witnessed the development of China-DPRK relationship,” Xi said.
“This is a strategic choice and the only right choice both sides have made based on history and reality, the international and regional structure and the general situation of China-DPRK ties,” the Chinese President continued.
“This should not and will not change because of any single event at a particular time.”
China and North Korea would continue to enjoy close ties, he added.
The Chinese President also reportedly made four proposals concerning the future of DPRK-PRC relations, stressing the importance of “high-level exchanges” between the two countries, continuing “strategic communications,” advancing “peaceful development,” and “cement the popular will” on Beijing-Pyongyang relations.
Xi also praised the North Korean leader’s work on developing the DPRK economy.
“We have noticed that Comrade Chairman has led the WPK and the people of the DPRK in taking a series of active measures and scoring achievements in developing economy and improving people’s wellbeing in recent years,” Xi said.
Kim was accompanied on the visit by his wife, Ri Sol Ju, and the two were hosted at a banquet and “watched an art performance together.”
The DPRK leader was also joined on his trip by a substantial group of North Korean officials, including Choe Ryong Hae, vice-chairman of the WPK Central Committee and director of the Organization and Guidance Department and Pak Kwang Ho, vice-chairman of the WPK Central Committee and director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department.
Also featured were Ri Su Yong, vice-chairman of the WPK Central Committee and director of the International Department, Kim Yong Chol, vice-chairman of the WPK Central Committee, and DPRK foreign minister Ri Yong Ho.
The delegation, notably, did not feature Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Jo Yong, who was widely speculated to have been part of the high-profile visit.
The confirmation of the Kim-Xi meeting comes after days of speculation of a high-level delegation visiting Beijing after the train previously used by Kim Jong Il to travel to China and Russia was spotted in China by Japanese broadcaster Nippon TV on Monday.
The train arrived in the Chinese capital on Monday following an overnight journey from the North, before departing from Beijing Tuesday afternoon.
While 2017 represented a year of heightened tensions on the peninsula due to consistent missile tests conducted by the DPRK, 2018 has – so far – been a year defined by North Korea’s diplomatic activities.
In his New Years speech, Kim made positive overtures towards South Korea, which led to the DPRK’s expanded participation during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics and the presence of Kim Yo Jong – the leader’s sister – at the games, along with other high-level dignitaries.
While in the South, Kim Yo Jong presented South Korean President Moon Jae-in with a letter from Kim Jong Un, inviting him to Pyongyang for an inter-Korean summit.
Subsequently, a South Korean delegation traveled to Pyongyang for talks with Kim – the North Korean leaders first meeting with ROK officials since coming to power.
Following the meeting, the South Korean delegation reported that during high-level meetings the DPRK expressed its “will” to denuclearize if the DPRK’s security is guaranteed.
The two Koreas also agreed to a historic third summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un in April.
Shortly after on March 9, it was revealed by South Korea’s National Security Office (NSO) chief Chung Eui-yong that in meetings in Pyongyang the DPRK leader also “expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible.”
President Trump reportedly accepted the invitation, and will meet Kim Jong Un “by May,” Chung added.
North Korea is yet, however, to make any public comments on the purported agreement to talk.
Kim’s trip on Monday appears to represent a significant step in the ongoing diplomatic outreach during 2018 – and a necessary one considering China remains North Korea’s largest trading partner.
Featured image: KCNA