In Depth

What is Kim Jong Un doing in China?

North Korean leader is visiting neighbouring Asian country for third time this year

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has landed in Beijing for a two-day state visit to China, Chinese state media have announced.

It is Kim’s third trip to China this year, and comes a week after he met President Donald Trump in Singapore for a historic summit between North Korea and the US.

In Singapore, Kim agreed to work with Trump toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. Much to the surprise of US allies in Asia, Trump in turn pledged to end joint military exercises with South Korea, which he described as “war games”.

Chinese state media announced Kim’s latest visit ahead of his arrival - a marked contrast to the official handling of his previous visits, which were only confirmed after he had left the country, says US news network CNBC. No other details were provided.

What is Kim doing in China?

“China is North Korea’s most important diplomatic and economic backer but has been angered by Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests,” CNBC reports.

Kim’s visit may be one way for China to “highlight its crucial role” in US efforts to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear programme, says ABC News. Chinese President Xi Jinping “is exerting a lot of influence from behind the scenes”, according to Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Washington DC-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The trip has come at an intriguing time, however. The US usually looks to China to bring North Korea to the negotiating table, but while US-North Korean relationships appear to be on the mend, ties between Beijing and Washington are being strained by a major trade dispute.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said that the visit would “strengthen our strategic communication on major issues to promote regional peace and stability”.

Geng added that Beijing supports Russia’s calls last week for the immediate cancellation of unilateral sanctions on North Korea - sanctions not imposed by the United Nations framework.

“China always stands against the so-called unilateral sanctions outside the Security Council framework. This position is very clear and we believe sanctions themselves are not the end,” he said.

What else has China said?

Cheng Xiaohe, an associate professor at Renmin University’s School of International Studies in Beijing, said the visit - combined with the fact that Chinese state broadcaster CCTV announced Kim’s visit beforehand - “shows that China is moving toward a healthier and more normal direction in relations with North Korea”.

Yang Mu-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Kim’s repeated visits to Beijing this year show that the recent chill between the two countries over Kim’s development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles had fully lifted.

“I believe that indicates that the blood alliance between the North and China has been completely restored,” Yang said.

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