North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has arrived in China at the invitation of President Xi Jinping, only days after warning he would take an “alternative path” if the United States kept his country under pressure and sanctions.
Kim and his wife, Ri Sol-ju, arrived in Beijing for a three-day visit on Tuesday, Chinese and North Korean media reported.
In a report earlier in the day, the official news agency of the North, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), said Kim had left the capital, Pyongyang, on Monday afternoon with his wife and a delegation of key diplomats, including Kim Yong-chol, who has led negotiations with the US and other countries in the past.
South Korea’s media had reported earlier that a heavily armored train “possibly carrying a senior official” had crossed the North’s border into China on Monday.
The train entered China on Monday and arrived in Beijing on Tuesday morning, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.
The South’s media also said that the visit coincided with Kim’s 35th birthday, on January 8.
This is Kim’s fourth trip to China since last year, when Pyongyang started unprecedented diplomatic engagement with other countries.
Kim’s last visit to China came days after he met with US President Donald Trump in a June summit in Singapore, where the two agreed to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Trump has recently said officials are working to arrange a second meeting between him and Kim.
But diplomacy between North Korea and the US has already snagged, because the US refuses to remove any of its harsh sanctions on Pyongyang. This is while the North Korean government has already taken several unilateral measures toward denuclearization.
In his New Year address last week, Kim said that there would be faster progress on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula if the Trump administration took corresponding action. If that didn’t happen, he warned, North Korea would take an “alternative path.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un says Pyongyang may take an alternative path if Washington maintains pressure and sanctions on his country.
An analyst at a US think tank, the Washington-based Center for the National Interest, described Kim’s statement as a veiled threat to move closer to Beijing, which remains its closest ally and most important trading partner.
“Kim is eager to remind the Trump administration that he does have diplomatic and economic options besides what Washington and Seoul can offer,” said Harry Kazianis, the director of defense studies at the think tank.
Kim’s visit also coincided with another development in China, where a delegation of US negotiators has already started talks over a trade war between Beijing and Washington.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, however, told CNBC on Monday that the trade talks and the North Korean issue were not related.
“The Chinese have been very clear to us that these are separate issues,” he said. “Their behavior has demonstrated that as well and we appreciate that. China has actually been a good partner in our efforts to reduce the risk to the world from North Korea’s nuclear capability; I expect they will continue to do so.”
On the contrary, Kazianis, the analyst at the think tank, said that the timing from China’s perspective “could not be any better,” as “Beijing clearly has a North Korea card to play if it sees fit” amid the trade talks with the US.