Kim Jong-un makes birthday visit to China

Thae Yong-ho who fled his post as North Korea's deputy ambassador to Britain in August 2016

Thae Yong-ho who fled his post as North Korea's deputy ambassador to Britain in August 2016

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has arrived in Beijing at the start of a four-day visit.

The North's Korean Central News Agency said Kim departed Monday afternoon with his wife, Ri Sol Ju, and other top officials. The North's state media Rodong Sinmun reported Tuesday that Kim left for China for a four-day visit.

His latest visit may also provide Xi with an opportunity to accentuate his country's leverage over North Korea as China and the United States try to head off a trade war.

After years of cool relations following Mr Kim's assumption of power 2011, ties have improved remarkably over the past year as Mr Xi seeks to maintain his influence in the region.

Each of Kim's previous visits occurred before or after holding summits with Trump or South Korean President Moon Jae In. He has said he expects to meet Kim again soon.

"From the other prospective, this is something that can indirectly be used to show the United States that China is not playing without any cards in hand", Shi said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang, asked during a daily briefing whether there was a connection between the trade talks and the possibility of another meeting between Kim and Trump, said China believed contact between the United States and North Korea was important. But he warned that he may seek an alternative path to a summit with Trump if U.S. sanctions and pressure against the country continues.

Neither KCNA nor Xinhua provided further information on Kim's itinerary, though South Korea's Hankyoreh newspaper said on Monday that he will meet with China's Xi for a fourth summit.

Until news of Kim's departure for Beijing broke, attention outside of North Korea had been focused nearly exclusively on when, or whether, he would be making his first and much-anticipated trip to Seoul.

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Some observers believe that while it is tempting to interpret this "new way" as being a thinly veiled threat of more nuclear or missile tests, it could instead be an implicit warning that the North could further bolster its already improving ties with China if the US fails to ante up.

"We are negotiating a location.it will be announced probably in the not-too-distant future", Trump said Sunday at the White House.

Kim's trip, announced earlier by both sides, comes after USA and North Korean officials are thought to have met in Vietnam to discuss the site of a second summit. The Kim-Xi meeting comes ahead of a likely second summit with President Donald Trump, after the two leaders met in June to discuss denuclearizing the Korean peninsula. However China's state-run Global Times newspaper appeared to reveal the birth year of the North Korean leader in a tweet. North Korea insists that Washington first build trust by lifting the sanctions imposed on that country.

Kim's visit comes as a USA delegation opened a second day of talks with Chinese counterparts in Beijing aimed at ending the trade war between the world's two largest economies.

The only day North Korea has acknowledged Mr Kim's birthday was in 2014, when visiting basketball star Dennis Rodman sang "Happy Birthday" to him after an exhibition match in Pyongyang.

"China has always supported both sides to continue to hold talks and to reach a positive outcome", Lu said.

The UN enforced multiple rounds of economic sanctions against Pyongyang a year ago as punishment for its nuclear development.

Washington and Pyongyang seemed close to war at points during 2017, as the North staged a series of increasingly powerful weapons tests that got it tantalisingly close to its nuclear goal of one day targeting with pinpoint accuracy anywhere on the USA mainland. "But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNBC on Monday that China has so far kept the two issues separate". And Trump said he had received a "great letter" from Kim. "China has actually been a good partner in our efforts to reduce the risk to the world from North Korea's nuclear capability".

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