President Donald Trump on Wednesday said in a tweet that Chinese President Xi Jinping had told him a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had gone very well and that Kim looked forward to meeting with Trump.
There looks to be more changes coming on that front, too, now that North and South Korea are set to hold their first summit in more than ten years.
Christopher Green, an analyst at the International Crisis Group, pointed out that Kim's father and predecessor Kim Jong-il travelled to Beijing to meet with the then Chinese leader Jiang Zemin in 2000, ahead of the first inter-Korean summit.
The visit strengthened Kim's negotiating position in upcoming talks with Washington, decreasing the already remote prospect that the Trump administration could push Pyongyang to adopt Washington's preferred timeline and approach for denuclearization.
"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", Chinese news agency Xinhua quoted Kim as saying during his recent meeting with China's President Xi Jinping in Beijing. The two agreed that China would assist with the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsular and Pyongyang highlighted the historical ties forged in blood between China and North Korea.
But Chinese state television gave similar coverage to Kim's meetings with Xi as they did to Xi's meetings with Trump past year, with an unusually long 14-minute report of what Xi and Kim discussed and where and how they met, though the initial secrecy of the trip meant no live coverage of the welcome ceremony.
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This week, Mr. Kim surprised both South Korea and the United States by secretly visiting Beijing, in his first trip outside North Korea since taking power.
Kim's meeting with the Chinese president brings Beijing back onto a stage where it had played a key role for decades as Pyongyang's diplomatic guardian and its chief source of aid and trade. The only mention of any nuclear issue in North Korean media at press time is a passing mention of a visit Kim reportedly made to an exhibition on China's "successes made in the field of natural science and technology such as nuclear physics, outer space, agriculture and energy".
The DPRK leader emphasized his country's determination to transform inter-Korean relations to boost an atmosphere of reconciliation and cooperation during the summits with Moon and Trump. The Xi-Kim meet could be a step in that direction if China agrees to be a balancing force and a facilitator of talks between the North and the U.S. North Korea's provocations also took a toll on relations with Beijing.
Xi said: "China sticks to the goal of denuclearisation of the peninsula, safeguarding peace and stability on the peninsula and solving problems through dialogue and consultation".
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Suga welcomed plans for an April 27 meeting between the leaders of the two Koreas as a sign of progress resulting from worldwide pressure on North Korea.
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It may also be that the North recognizes some hard realities.
President Trump has shown admirable skill in preventing North Korea from gaining the upper hand against the US with aggressive test firings of its nuclear missiles combined with its soft diplomacy at the Winter Olympics.
"At least one of the things that Kim would want out of these meetings is a way forward to begin to ease those sanctions and support from China in that effort", said Glaser, the Asia expert.
"It's most proper that my first overseas trip would be the capital of the People's Republic of China", Kim Jong Un said, according to the North's KCNA.
But it also has its own interests in mind.
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