North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has pledged his continuing commitment to denuclearisation ahead of his expected summit with US president Donald Trump during a meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping in a northern Chinese port city.
The meeting on Monday and Tuesday in Dalian is the second between Mr Xi and Mr Kim in recent weeks, following the North Korean leader’s March trip to Beijing – his first since taking power six years ago.
Neither leader was quoted as directly referring to either the planned Trump meeting or Mr Kim’s summit with South Korean president Moon Jae-in late last month.
However, state broadcaster CCTV quoted Mr Xi as saying China “supports North Korea to stick to denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and supports North Korea and the US in solving the peninsula issue through dialogue and consultation”.
Mr Trump tweeted that he planned to speak with Mr Xi later in the day to discuss trade and North Korea, where he said “relationships and trust are building”.
Mr Kim was quoted as telling Mr Xi that North Korea remains committed to denuclearisation and has no need to possess nuclear weapons if a “relevant party” drops its “hostile policy and security threats” against it, a clear reference to the United States.
“I hope to build mutual trust with the US through dialogue,” Mr Kim was quoted as saying.
A political resolution of tensions on the peninsula and denuclearisation should proceed in stages, with all sides moving in concert, he said. The Trump administration has demanded that North Korea immediately commit to denuclearisation.
The Kim-Xi meeting was the top news story in North Korea, with its most famous television announcer, Ri Chun Hui, again called out of her semi-retirement to report the event, underscoring its importance.
Ms Ri, wearing a traditional Korean-style dress, often smiled as she reported the news.
The report, which lasted about 20 minutes, did not show any photos or video of the visit.
Mr Kim was accompanied by his younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, who has taken on an increasingly public role as the North Korean leader has tried to present a “softer” face to the outside world.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said there was a “deep exchange of opinions” between Mr Kim and Mr Xi on the changes around the Korean Peninsula that are “drawing the world’s eyes and ears”.
Mr Kim offered his views on how North Korea and China would “firmly grasp the strategic opportunity”, it said.
Though rumours are likely widespread, North Korea’s media still have not explicitly confirmed the expected summit with Mr Trump.
The recent South Korean summit and the potential US talks have received more attention internationally, but China’s role as an economic lifeline for North Korea makes the talks between Mr Xi and Mr Kim all the more crucial.
Mr Kim needs to make sure that whatever negotiations he has with Mr Trump align to some degree with Beijing’s positions, which could certainly complicate his task ahead.
China’s official Xinhua News Agency said Mr Xi hosted a welcome banquet for Mr Kim on Monday, and the two leaders strolled along the coastline at a government guesthouse and had lunch together on Tuesday.
“At a crucial time when the regional situation is developing rapidly, Kim said he came to China again to meet with (Xi) and inform him of the situation,” Xinhua said.
CCTV showed Mr Xi wearing a western business suit and Kim in his standard high-collared Mao suit. They stood on a beach, sat under an awning on an outdoor deck, strolled through lush gardens and sat at a conference table.
“In a cordial and friendly atmosphere, the top leaders of the two parties and the two countries had an all-round and in-depth exchange of views on China-DPRK relations and major issues of common concern,” Xinhua said, using the initials for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
China is North Korea’s only major ally, although trade has plummeted in recent months as Beijing enforces United Nations economic sanctions in response to the North’s nuclear bomb and ballistic missile tests.
China has also been eager to assert its importance in the process of lowering tensions on the Korean Peninsula. It has called for a halt to weapons tests and large-scale military exercises and a return to six-nation denuclearisation talks it previously hosted in Beijing.