Update: Amid all the speculation - was it him or his sister? - China's Xinhua confirms that, at the invitation of China's president Xi Jinping, North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un paid an unofficial visit to China from Sunday to Wednesday.
During the visit, Xi held talks with Kim at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan held a welcoming banquet for Kim and his wife Ri Sol Ju and watched an art performance together. Xi said Kim's current visit to China, which came at a special time and was of great significance, fully embodied the great importance that Comrade Chairman and the WPK Central Committee have attached to the relations between the two countries and the two parties.
The first photo to emerge from the summit is below:
For his part, Kim told Xi that, in addition to the usual pleasantries, he is willing to have dialogue with the US and hold a summit between the two countries, something we have known for the past few weeks; as a reminder, Trump recently confirmed he would meet with Kim at a venue which has yet to be chosen.
More importantly, Kim told Xi that he is "committed to the denuclearization of the peninsula."
Interestingly, given the growing tension between US and China, Xi seemed to suggest deeper relations with North Korea in the future...
"Both Comrade Chairman and I have personally experienced and witnessed the development of China-DPRK relationship," said Xi, adding that both sides have stated repeatedly that traditional China-DPRK friendship should be passed on continuously and developed better.
"This is a strategic choice and the only right choice both sides have made based on history and reality, the international and regional structure and the general situation of China-DPRK ties. This should not and will not change because of any single event at a particular time," Xi said.
Separately, Kim also said he was greatly encouraged and inspired by General Secretary Xi's important views on DPRK-China friendship and the development of relations between the two parties and countries. Kim said his current visit aims to meet Chinese comrades, enhance strategic communication, and deepen traditional friendship, hoping to have opportunities to meet with Comrade General Secretary Xi Jinping often, and keep close contacts through such forms as sending special envoys and personal letters to each other, so as to promote to a new level the guidance of high-level meetings to the relations between the two parties and countries.
Commenting on the visit by Kim Jong-un to China, SCMP says that it sent a clear message to the world that despite rumours to the contrary, Beijing and Pyongyang remain close allies, analysts said on Tuesday. The visit came just days before a planned meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and ahead of the upcoming summit with US President Donald Trump.
Bates Gill, a professor of Asia-Pacific Strategic Studies at Australian National University in Canberra, said that Kim's Visit signalled his desire to have China on side before his talks with Moon and Trump.
“The mere fact that he’s there – if he’s there – and has meetings with Xi Jinping in itself is just, from the optics, a very powerful signal to Moon and to Trump about the apparent willingness of China to offer up some kind of at least political support,” he said. “[Kim] understands that going into these very high-powered strategic meetings, he needs all the friends he can get, or at least the image that he has as many friends that he can get.”
Beijing-based military expert Zhou Chenming said that the surprise visit was also aimed at rebutting widespread claims that China, which remains North Korea’s biggest diplomatic and economic supporter, no longer had any leverage over its reclusive neighbour. “The visit itself is proof that Beijing and Pyongyang have maintained their traditional friendship and top-level contacts despite rampant rumours about their ties being strained,” he said.
By choosing Beijing as the destination for his first overseas trip, the despotic Kim was also clearly trying to make a conciliatory gesture and assure Xi that he had no intention of forging closer ties with Washington at the expense of Sino-North Korean relations, Zhou said.
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As we detailed earlier, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's first foreign trip to Beijing since coming to power in 2011 has ended, and the distinctive green locomotive that reportedly ferried Kim has departed the Beijing Railway Station...
A little over two hours after the armored express was reported to have pulled out, it was business as usual, according to South China Morning Post.
Reuters, citing reports from South Korean media, also reported that Kim had in fact been part of the delegation of North Koreans that traveled to Beijing for a whirlwind series of meetings ahead of a tentatively planned summit between President Trump and the North Korean leader in May.
South Korea’s left-leaning press Hankyoreh also reported Kim had traveled to Beijing for meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday afternoon before leaving for a "third location" on Tuesday. It did not cite specific sources. The third location could be in China, but other media reports said the train was on its way to Pyongyang.
Two sources, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, confirmed that the mystery guest was Kim.
"It wasn’t his sister, it was Kim himself," one said.
The Chinese foreign ministry has yet to confirm the visit by Kim or any North Korean delegation, which is standard practice.
The agenda of Kim’s visit – his first foreign excursion since coming to power in 2011 – is still unknown.
However, it's notable that the meeting took place against a backdrop of easing tensions on the Korean peninsula, after officials from the North and South agreed to hold talks, and US President Donald Trump gave the green light for direct negotiations with the head of the restive state.
Beijing remains a key economic backer of the North Korean regime, even though Kim was reportedly frustrated at China's decision to back UN Security Council sanctions against its restive neighbor.
The return to normal security levels on Tuesday was in marked contrast to the scenes in Beijing on Monday, when motorcades and roadblocks were seen across the city. Security has also been intensified on the China-North Korea border.
The first hint that the mystery guest was Kim was the appearance of the green train of the type favoured by North Korea’s senior leadership, which was seen travelling from the border city of Dandong to Beijing.
The roads around the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, where foreign dignitaries usually stay, were cordoned off on Monday and local people were told to avoid the area.
Reporters were held back behind a cordon a couple of hundred metres away, as a convoy of vehicles accompanied by police motorbikes left the compound about 9.30am on Tuesday and returned about two hours later.
Rumor circling in Beijing that Kim Jong Un is in town to smooth relations with Xi Jinping before summit with Trump. pic.twitter.com/Yrii9CbOYr— Wei Du 杜唯 (@WeiDuCNA) March 26, 2018
Later, the motorcade was spotted passing by Tiananmen Square, apparently en route to the railway station.
The North Korean delegation arrived on Sunday, Reuters reported.