North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a surprise visit to China, the two countries announced on Wednesday, making it Kim’s first ever meeting with a foreign leader.
A lengthy report from China’s state-run news agency said that Kim had made an unofficial visit to China at the request of Xi. The two leaders held talks at a government building in Beijing and, along with their wives, had dinner and watched an art performance.
The two leaders discussed how to improve bilateral relations between China and North Korea, and Xi indicated his willingness to keep in contact with Kim, to visit North Korea in the future, and to send special envoys to the country. He also expressed his support for Kim’s leadership.
During their meeting, China said, Kim confirmed that North Korea is committed to denuclearization and is willing to hold a summit with the United States. It is the first time that a source other than South Korea has confirmed Kim’s willingness to denuclearize and to meet with the United States.
“The issue of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula can be resolved, if South Korea and the United States respond to our efforts with goodwill, create an atmosphere of peace and stability while taking progressive and synchronous measures for the realization of peace,” Kim said.
Xi expressed his hope that Kim’s visit to China will push bilateral relations between North Korea and China to a new high, explaining that a friendly relationship is in the strategic interests of both countries. “We speak highly of this visit,” he told Kim.
Kim, meanwhile, described his meeting with Xi as a success. “In this spring full of happiness and hopes, I believe my first meeting with General Secretary Xi Jinping will yield abundant fruits of DPRK-China friendship, and facilitate peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” Kim said.
Kim’s visit to Beijing, which began on Monday and lasted about 24 hours, marks his first official trip to a foreign country since taking power after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, in December 2011. It is also his first official meeting with a foreign leader.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said China had briefed the United States about Kim’s visit to Beijing. “The briefing included a personal message from President Xi to President Trump, which has been conveyed to President Trump,” she said, providing no details about the contents of the message.
Sanders, commenting on Kim’s historic meeting with Xi, added: “We see this development as further evidence that our campaign of maximum pressure is creating the appropriate atmosphere for dialogue with North Korea.”
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula were high throughout much of 2017, fueled by North Korea’s frequent missile tests and its advancing nuclear weapons program, as well as U.S. military exercises and threatening statements by President Donald Trump.
A series of diplomatic encounters between North and South Korea has allowed for an ease in tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
A South Korean delegation visited Pyongyang earlier this month and met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, making them the first officials from the South to ever meet with Kim in person. Kim agreed to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in towards the end of April.
After the meeting, the South Korean delegation traveled to the United States, after which they informed Trump that the North Korean leader had committed to denuclearization, pledged to refrain from further nuclear or missile tests, and expressed his eagerness to meet with Trump as soon as possible.
Trump has agreed to meet with Kim by May in an attempt to reach a deal in which North Korea agrees to permanent denuclearization. “The deal with North Korea is very much in the making and will be, if completed, a very good one for the World,” Trump said on Twitter on March 9.
But despite the diplomatic efforts, North Korea has publicly insisted that its nuclear weapons program is not up for discussion under any circumstance, and it has not publicly commented on the planned meeting with Trump. Citizens in North Korea do not have access to outside information.