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North Korean leader heads home after Beijing visit

Updated January 10, 2019

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BEIJING: A special train believed to be carrying Kim Jong-un departed Beijing on Wednesday after a two-day visit by the North Korean leader to the Chinese capital.

Kim could not be seen, but he was presumed to be on board the long train as it crossed on elevated tracks over a busy Beijing street and headed towards eastern China and the border with North Korea.

Kim’s trip to China his fourth in the past 10 months is believed to be an effort to coordinate with his only major ally ahead of a possible second summit with President Donald Trump. It comes after US and North Korean officials are thought to have met in Vietnam to discuss the site of the summit.

Details of his visit have not been released, but Kim reportedly met with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Earlier on Wednesday, Kim’s motorcade headed out to an unannounced destination and returned about an hour later. South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency said Kim visited a technology development zone and spent around 20-30 minutes touring a factory run by famed traditional Chinese medicine maker Tong Ren Tang.

North Korean and Chinese state media announced his visit shortly in advance of his arrival in Beijing, in a break with standard protocol dictating such trips are only confirmed after they happen. However, neither side has provided details of what he has done since arriving aboard his personal armoured train on Tuesday morning.

Yonhap said Kim met with Xi for about an hour on Tuesday and later attended a dinner at the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing hosted by Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan. Kim was accompanied by his wife, Ri Sol Ju, the news agency said.

At Tuesday’s daily Foreign Ministry briefing, spokesman Lu Kang said details of Kim’s visit would be released “in due course”. He said Beijing remains supportive of efforts to end tensions over US demands for a halt to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.

“We always believe that, as key parties to the Korean Peninsula issue, it’s important for the two sides to maintain contact and we always support their dialogue to achieve positive outcomes,” Lu said.

Tuesday was Kim’s birthday. His visit is also seen as part of an effort to win Chinese support for a reduction of UN sanctions imposed over his nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, which have severely impacted his country’s already ailing economy.

Kim’s visit also came after he expressed frustration in his annual New Year’s address over the lack of progress in negotiations with Washington since the Singapore summit with Trump in June, saying that if things don’t improve meaning that if sanctions relief and security guarantees aren’t in the offing Pyongyang might have to find “a new way” forward.

Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2019