North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was heading to China on a two-day visit starting Tuesday, Chinese state-run television said, exactly a week after Kim’s landmark summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. Kim will be in China on Tuesday and Wednesday — his third visit this year to the North’s top ally. The brief report gave no further details. It was not clear if he was already in the country, though a North Korean plane landed in Beijing on Tuesday — the same plane used during the summit last week.
Kim is expected to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping to brief him on the results of Kim’s summit with Trump in Singapore. At that meeting, Kim pledged his country’s commitment to work “towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” while Trump vowed to provide security guarantees to North Korea.
In March, Kim met with Xi in Beijing on his first foreign trip since becoming supreme leader following the death of his father Kim Jong Il in late 2011. Kim and Xi also met for two days in May in the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian. Kim is likely to ask Xi for relief from strangling economic sanctions in return for his pledge to denuclearize, observers say.
China has shown willingness to be involved in U.S.-North Korean denuclearization talks, having provided chartered aircraft for Kim to travel to and from Singapore for the summit. Washington has argued that economic sanctions against Pyongyang should be lifted only after North Korea achieves complete denuclearization, but Kim has tried to gain concessions by vowing nuclear disarmament in a “phased” and “synchronized” manner.
North Korean state media said in a report the day after the June 12 summit that Trump had agreed to lift sanctions — a claim that contradicted comments from the president that the measures would “come off when we are sure that the nukes are no longer a factor.” The North’s brief mention of sanctions did not include a timeline for the easing of sanctions. Trump said earlier this month that he would no longer be using the term “maximum pressure” amid improving ties.
Highlighting the continued differences in the two countries’ views of the denuclearization process, the report also said that they had agreed on a “step-by-step” approach. It said that Kim and Trump had “shared recognition to the effect that it is important to abide by the principle of step-by-step and simultaneous action in achieving peace, stability and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
The White House has called for the North to take swift and clear disarmament measures before receiving any rewards, though Trump acknowledged at the summit that the meeting was “the beginning of an arduous process.” It has not used language similar to the North in regards to a phased approach to denuclearization.