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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
A train believed to be carrying North Korean leader Kim Jong Un departed from the Chinese capital on Wednesday, multiple outlets reported, wrapping up a visit to the country in which he is widely believed to have met President Xi Jinping.
The visit was the DPRK leader’s fourth to China in the last year, and his third to Beijing.
Earlier in the day Kim was reported by South Korean media to have toured industrial facilities in Beijing, including a pharmaceutical factory owned by the Tong Ren Tang conglomerate.
Kim was then reported to have had lunch with the Chinese President, having also met with Xi on Tuesday night.
Much of Kim’s visit remains shrouded in mystery: as of 1430 Beijing time neither North Korean or Chinese state media have reported on the details of the summit or even confirmed that a meeting has taken place.
Wednesday’s edition of North Korea’s ruling party organ the Rodong Sinmun featured no coverage of ongoing events, instead focusing on mass rallies taking place across the country.
Monday evening saw reports begin to emerge in both South Korean and Japanese media that a high-level North Korean delegation had arrived by train in the border city of Dandong amid tight security.
Tuesday morning then saw both Chinese and North Korean state media confirm reports that Kim Jong Un was en route to China for a four-day visit on the invitation of the Chinese President.
DPRK media reported that Kim 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.
Footage aired later in the day by the Korean Central Television (KCTV) revealed he was also joined in his departure from Pyongyang by his sister, and high-level official in her own right, Kim Yo Jong.
Kim was reported to have arrived in the Chinese capital late Tuesday morning, with international media reporting that a motorcade believed to belong to the North Korean leader had passed through central Beijing just after midday.
He was then reported to have arrived at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People for a meeting with the Chinese President at 1630 local time.
Journalists capture some of the first images of the motorcade carrying Kim Jong Un as it drives through central Beijing at the start of the North Korean leader’s four-day visit to China pic.twitter.com/AaltPWxQRX
— AFP news agency (@AFP) January 8, 2019
Kim’s state visit to Beijing comes as the U.S. and North Korea begin talks over potential locations for an upcoming second summit between the DPRK leader and U.S. President Donald Trump.
Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, Trump said an announcement on location will be made in the “not too distant future,” with CNN reporting Tuesday that Bangkok, Hanoi, and Hawaii are under consideration.
One expert told NK News the DPRK leader would likely use this week’s visit to set up the “game board” for that summit.
“He has placed the game pieces at points most favorable to his goals (“traps” for the U.S., too, perhaps), ran a few practice runs and scripts with Xi, and will return to Pyongyang feeling a little more prepared, a little more confident about dealing with Trump again,” said Soo Kim, a former CIA North Korea analyst.
Following the North Korean leader’s pledge that the two countries would work on “strengthening strategic communication and strategic and tactical cooperation” in March, there have been multiple exchanges between the two countries in addition to the three summits.
Song Tao, who heads the International Liaison Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and has emerged as a key interlocutor between Pyongyang and Beijing in recent years, travelled to the DPRK with an art troupe in April.
Xi also sent top Chinese legislator Li Zhanshu, who serves as the chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), to attend celebrations in Pyongyang to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the DPRK.
The Chinese President is yet to visit the North Korean capital himself, however, despite having last year accepted an invitation to Pyongyang.
One expert said the timing of Kim’s visit to Beijing this week was “very important,” coming as it does less than a week after the DPRK leader’s New Year’s Address, and suggested the slow pace of inter-Korean economic cooperation could be driving Pyongyang’s interest in the meeting.
“Moon Jae-in’s inability and Washington’s lack of will to at least partially lift sanctions, Pyongyang gets closer to China,” Théo Clément, an expert in the economic relations between China and North Korea, told NK News.
International sanctions, he continued, “add uncertainty and prevent the development of larger scale economic cooperation or integration programs.”
“This might be what KJU is trying to obtain from Beijing: economic assistance, technology and more generally more cooperation,” he added.
“Bilateral eco ties have been frustrating (for both sides) for years and this meeting alone will not change this fact, but it will add more pressure on Moon’s shoulders.”