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WATCH: North Korea’s Kim Jong Un heads to China in first foreign visit

Published: Updated:

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has pledged to denuclearize and meet US officials, China said on Wednesday after an historic meeting with President Xi Jinping, who promised China would uphold its friendship with its isolated neighbor.

After two days of speculation, China and North Korea both confirmed that Kim had visited Beijing and met Xi during what China’s Foreign Ministry called an unofficial visit to China from Sunday to Wednesday.

The China visit was Kim’s first known trip outside North Korea since he assumed power in 2011 and is believed by analysts to serve as preparation for upcoming summits with South Korea and the United States.

North Korea’s KCNA news agency made no mention of Kim’s pledge to denuclearize, or his anticipated meeting with US President Donald Trump that is planned for some time in May.

Beijing has traditionally been the closest ally of secretive North Korea, but ties have been frayed by Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and China’s backing of tough UN sanctions in response.

China’s Foreign Ministry cited Kim in a lengthy statement as telling Xi that the situation on the Korean peninsula was starting to improve because North Korea had taken the initiative to ease tensions and put forward proposals for peace talks.

“It is our consistent stand to be committed to denuclearization on the peninsula, in accordance with the will of late President Kim Il Sung and late General Secretary Kim Jong Il,” Kim Jong Un said, according to the statement. North Korea is willing to talk with the United States and hold a summit between the two countries, he said.

“The issue of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula can be resolved, if South Korea and the United States respond to our efforts with goodwill, create an atmosphere of peace and stability while taking progressive and synchronous measures for the realization of peace,” Kim said.

Nuclear umbrella

Kim Jong Un’s predecessors, grandfather Kim Il Sung and father Kim Jong Il, both publicly promised not to pursue nuclear weapons but secretly continued to develop the programs, culminating in the North’s first nuclear test in 2006 under Kim Jong Il.

The North had said in past failed talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear program that it could consider giving up its arsenal if the United States removed its troops from South Korea and withdrew its so-called nuclear umbrella of deterrence from South Korea and Japan.

Many analysts and former negotiators believe this still constitutes North Korea’s stance on denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and remain deeply skeptical Kim is willing to give up the nuclear weapons his family has been developing for decades.

Trump briefed

China briefed Trump on Kim’s visit and the communication included a personal message from Xi to Trump, the White House said in a statement.

“The United States remains in close contact with our allies South Korea and Japan. We see this development as further evidence that our campaign of maximum pressure is creating the appropriate atmosphere for dialogue with North Korea,” the statement said.