Xi accepts Kim's invitation to visit N/Korea

Pyongyang, Jan 10: Chinese President Xi Jinping has agreed to make his first official visit to North Korea, since leader Kim Jong-Un took power more than seven years ago.

Xi accepted "with pleasure" Kim's invitation to visit the country at a convenient time when they held summit talks in Beijing on Tuesday and informed Kim of his visit plans, the North's official Korean Central News Agency said. Details of the plan were not immediately made public.

This year also marks the two countries' 70th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations.

Pyongyang and Beijing boasted their ties through Kim's surprise trip to Beijing this week, where they exchanged views on their common concerns, including the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Relations between the North and China had frayed in the early years of Kim's rule as the North forged ahead with a string of nuclear and missile tests in disregard of Chinese warnings, south korean news agency yonhap said in a report. In an apparent snub of Kim, Xi visited the South first without visiting the North.

However, relations between Pyongyang and Beijing had warmed significantly since last year as Kim launched a peace offensive and sought to improve relations with the United States. China tried to mend ties with Pyongyang over concern the North could break out of its orbit. That led to Kim visiting China three times last year alone.

Watchers said Kim's latest trip to the neighboring country was apparently aimed at coordinating strategy with China ahead of the second US-North Korea summit, which could take place early this year.

North Korea has been increasingly emphasizing China's role in resolving the current deadlock in the denuclearization talks, proposing "multi-party" negotiations to replace the current cease-fire agreement on the peninsula.

Kim warned in his New Year's Day address that he could seek a "new way" if the US insists on sanctions.

Xi said China will try to play a "constructive" role in realizing the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, expressing support for the Kim-Trump summit.

Earlier on Tuesday, South Korea also expressed the hope that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's new year summit diplomacy with the Chinese leadership this week will be conducive in de-nuclearising the peninsula and the inter-Korean peace process.

"The government expects that summit and high-level exchanges between the North and China, including a meeting between Chairman Kim Jong-un and President Xi Jinping, will be able to contribute to the complete denuclearization and establishment of permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula," Noh Kyu-duk, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a press briefing.

Analysts said they suggested Kim’s keenness to reinforce ties with China and send a message to the United States that he still has an economic ally. Some South Korean officials also agreed that Kim's China visit is seen as a prelude to another meeting with US President Donald Trump. (UNI)