North Korean state media has confirmed the country's Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un, is visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Kim will be in the country from 7-10 January and had been invited to visit by Xi Jinping. He was expected to arrive in Beijing on 8 January local time.
The North Korean leader took an armoured train to China and travelled with several high-ranking North Korean officials. His latest trip to China is his fourth visit in the past year and underlines North Korea’s strengthening ties with other countries after a long period of isolation and pariah status.
North Korea's Kim Jong-un visits China's Xi Jinping https://t.co/AS9LwgXVhw
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) January 8, 2019
China and North Korea have recently forged closer ties
China is North Korea’s most important ally and trade partner.
Before last year, however, Kim had not met with Xi for more than six years.
The visit comes on the back of news that North Korea is also preparing for another meeting between Kim and Donald Trump, following the pair’s historic summit last year.
Earlier this week, Trump confirmed his administration was making plans for another meeting with Kim. “They do want to meet and we want to meet and we’ll see what happens,” Trump said, adding that details of the venue “will be announced probably in the not too distant future.”
Trump said that a “good dialogue” was ongoing with North Korea but he did not foresee an immediate end to US sanctions on Pyongyang.
In his New Year address, Kim said he would be prepared to meet Trump to move towards the aim of denuclearising the Korean Peninsula that the two leaders discussed at their 2018 summit. He did note, however, that he would be prepared to walk away from negotiations if US sanctions and economic pressure on North Korea remain in place.
President Trump says the US is negotiating a location for a second summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un, whom Trump says he has spoken to "indirectly" https://t.co/dtiNNRLHgT pic.twitter.com/YcK6T4E1lx
— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) January 6, 2019
US sanctions on North Korea have been a sticking point
In December, the US imposed new sanctions on three North Korean officials after it was alleged they had been responsible for human rights abuses. North Korea said such action had the potential to “block the path to denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula forever”.
The US has sought information from North Korea on how many nuclear weapons it has accrued and the exact locations of its nuclear facilities. North Korea has been unwilling to offer full information on its nuclear arsenal before the US removes the sanctions it has imposed.
On 7 January, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNBC that China was not seeking to leverage its growing closeness with North Korea into concessions from the US on trade.
“The Chinese have been very clear to us that these are separate issues,” Pompeo said. “Their behaviour has demonstrated that as well, and we appreciate that. China has actually been a good partner in our effort to reduce the risk to the world from North Korea’s nuclear capability. I expect they will continue to do so.”
Header image credit: driver Photographer