North Korea’s Kim to Visit China for Fourth Summit

January 7, 2019 Updated: January 7, 2019

SEOUL—North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is visiting China at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Chinese and North Korean state media reported on Jan. 8, as preparations for a second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump continue.

Kim left for China on a private train on Monday afternoon accompanied by his wife, Ri Sol Ju, and other senior North Korean officials, including Kim Yong Chol and Ri Yong Ho, North Korea’s state-run KCNA news agency said.

China’s official Xinhua news agency also confirmed the visit and said Kim is visiting China from Monday to Thursday. The report did not state the purpose of the visit.

Last year Kim traveled to China three times to meet with Xi, before and after Kim held other summits with U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Kim is expected to meet again with both the U.S. and South Korean presidents in the near future, and another visit to China has been seen as a possible move before those summits.

Neither KCNA nor Xinhua provided further information on Kim’s itinerary.

Earlier on Jan. 7 the South Korean newspaper Munhwa Ilbo reported that U.S. State Department officials recently met multiple times with North Korean counterparts in Hanoi and discussed planning a second summit between Trump and Kim, fueling speculation that Vietnam could host the event.

At their landmark June summit in Singapore, Kim and Trump pledged to work toward denuclearization, but the pact was light on details and talks since have made little headway.

China is the North’s most important economic and diplomatic backer, despite anger over its neighbor’s nuclear and missile programs. Ties have warmed in the last year as Pyongyang’s relations with both Seoul and Washington have also improved.

China also played a role in Trump’s meeting with Kim, lending the North Korean leader an airliner for his trip to Singapore.

Diplomatic sources say Xi will probably go to North Korea at some point soon, which would make him the first Chinese leader to do so since 2005.

In early December, Xi told North Korea’s foreign minister during a visit in Beijing that he “hoped North Korea and the United States meet each other halfway and address each other’s reasonable concerns, allowing positive progress on the peninsula’s nuclear talks.”

By Hyonhee Shin,  Andrew Galbraith and Joyce Lee