June 20 (AP) — The leaders of China and North Korea met in the North’s capital on Thursday, their fifth meeting in 15 months, with stalled nuclear negotiations with Washington expected to be on the agenda.
China’s official Xinhua news agency reported that the talks in Pyongyang between Chinese President Xi Jinping and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had begun, but provided no details.
The summit comes as both Xi and Kim are locked in separate disputes with the United States — Xi over trade and Kim over his nuclear weapons.
With Xi due to meet President Donald Trump next week in Japan, analysts say Kim may ask the Chinese leader to pass on a message in hopes of reviving talks with the U.S. on North Korea’s nuclear program.
Xi’s two-day state visit to North Korea is the first by a Chinese president in 14 years.
He, his wife Peng Liyuan and senior Chinese officials were greeted with a 21-gun salute at a huge arrival ceremony at Pyongyang’s airport, where they were met by Kim and his wife, Ri Sol Ju.
About 10,000 people stood in tight formation, waving flowers and chanting slogans to welcome Xi, according to Xinhua. People also lined the roads as Xi’s motorcade traveled to central Pyongyang, where he joined Kim in an open-top vehicle, it said.
They waved to crowds as they rode to the square where the embalmed bodies of Kim’s grandfather and father, the first two leaders of North Korea, lie in state.
As of late Thursday afternoon, North Korean media had yet to report on Xi’s arrival.
Nuclear talks between the U.S. and North Korea broke down after a summit between Kim and Trump in February in Hanoi, Vietnam, ended in failure.
The U.S. is demanding that North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons development before international sanctions are lifted. North Korea is seeking a step-by-step approach in which moves toward its denuclearization are matched by concessions from the U.S., notably a relaxation of economic sanctions.
Experts say Xi will likely endorse North Korea’s calls for an incremental disarmament process.
A Xinhua commentary said China could play a unique and constructive role in breaking the cycle of mistrust between North Korea and the U.S. It said both sides “need to have reasonable expectations and refrain from imposing unilateral and unrealistic demands.”
A former North Korean diplomat who defected in 2016 said he thinks Kim wants to give Xi a message to deliver to Trump when the two meet at the upcoming G-20 summit in Japan.
Thae Yong Ho said Kim may offer to abandon some of his nuclear facilities in a bid to set up a third summit with the U.S. president. But he cautioned that such a move would be only to buy time and not to denuclearize fully, as the U.S. is demanding.
“The main purpose for the Kim Jong Un regime in negotiating is to keep North Korea as a new nuclear state in this region, there is no doubt about that,” he said at a news conference in Tokyo, where he is promoting the Japanese translation of his book, “Password From the Third Floor,” an inside look at North Korean diplomacy and the Kim regime.
Kim has met Xi four times in China as talks with both the U.S. and South Korea got underway starting last year.
China is North Korea’s most important foreign partner, though their relations grew somewhat rocky as Kim’s efforts to build his country’s nuclear weapons capabilities threatened regional stability.
A banner at the airport welcome ceremony read, “Long Live with Unbreakable Friendship and Unity Formed by Blood,” Xinhua said.
The nations fought together in the 1950-53 Korean War against the United States, South Korea and their allies. China welcomed Kim’s announcement last year that he was shifting the country’s focus from nuclear weapons to economic development.