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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.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Monday crossed the Chinese-DPRK border to begin a four day trip to the country, Chinese and DPRK state media confirmed early Tuesday morning.
The trip, which will be Kim’s fourth to China since taking power, comes on the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping and will see him stay until Thursday, according to Xinhua News Agency.
While his itinerary for the visit is not yet confirmed, it will be Kim’s longest visit to the country and will likely see him hold a summit with the Chinese leader.
The trip will see the North Korean leader spend his 35th birthday, which falls on January 8, in China.
DPRK media reports he is accompanied on the visit by First Lady Ri Sol Ju and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the DPRK Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) Ri Su Yong.
Also joining him are vice-chairmen of the Central Committee (CC) of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Kim Yong Chol and Pak Thae Song, as well as foreign minister Ri Yong Ho and head of the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces No Kwang Chol.
The South Korean government on Tuesday morning welcomed the news of the visit.
“The government expects that high-level exchanges between the North and China, including a meeting between Chairman Kim Jong-un and President Xi Jinping, will be able to contribute to the complete denuclearization and establishment of permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula,” a foreign ministry official was quoted as having said by Yonhap News Agency.
The confirmation of the meeting and Kim’s trip to China follows South Korean and Japanese media reports on Monday of increased security in the Chinese city of Dandong and the potential crossing of a train typically used by high-level delegations or North Korean leaders.
While Kim also staged multiple summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in throughout the year and a key summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, the North Korean leader’s first overseas visit of his rule was to China in March.
Kim and Xi later held two further summits in Dalian and Beijing, in meeting which saw the two countries shore up longstanding ties and affirm China’s support for Pyongyang’s program of diplomatic outreach.
The Chinese President last year also accepted an invitation to visit the North, though no such visit has materialized.
The North Korean leader’s visit this week comes amid reports from the U.S. that planning for a second summit between Kim and President Donald Trump is underway, with several locations reportedly under discussion.
One diplomatic expert said this week’s visit by Kim Jong Un to China would likely see the two sides seek to “reinforce the image of a closely coordinated China-North Korea relationship” ahead of that summit.
“Xi will want to maintain the perception and reality of China’s clout, while Kim will want to signal he has diplomatic options and leverage as he deals with the United States,” Mintaro Oba, a former East former Korea Desk Officer at the U.S. Department of State, told NK News.
“The visit also raises questions of whether it was prompted by serious movement toward a second U.S.-North Korea summit,” he added. “We will not know for sure for some time to come.”
Additional reporting by Dagyum Ji
Featured image: Rodong Sinmun