Xi Jinping set to meet Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang in April, South Korean sources say
- Chinese leader’s first visit to North Korea as president may coincide with Day of the Sun holiday on April 15, sources say
- Talks expected to take place after Kim’s second summit with US President Donald Trump, which sources say will be in Vietnam
Chinese President Xi Jinping is likely to make his first visit to North Korea in April, and the two sides are agreed on the matter, South Korean parliamentary sources told the South China Morning Post.
“Pyongyang and Beijing have reached a general consensus that Xi will visit Pyongyang in April,” said one of the sources, who has close ties to the Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee in Seoul.
North Korea has issued repeated invitations for Xi to visit – including in September to attend its national day celebrations – but in the six years since he was elected president he has yet to accept.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in October that Xi was expected to visit Pyongyang “soon”, and after Kim made his fourth visit to China this month, the timing might finally be right.
“Xi’s visit is more likely this year as it is the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between North Korea and China,” the source said.
The last Chinese president to visit Pyongyang was Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, in 2005. Xi visited North Korea in 2008, but only as a vice-president.
The second parliamentary source said Xi’s visit may be timed to coincide with the Day of the Sun holiday on April 15, one of the most important dates on the North Korean calendar when people celebrate the birth of Kim Il-sung, the nation’s founding father.
That date would make sense, as the “North Koreans would want to use Xi’s state visit for domestic propaganda, to further praise Kim’s diplomatic achievements”, the person said.
The sources’ predictions are in line with comments made by South Korea’s former prime minister Lee Hae-chan who said on Friday that Xi was likely to visit South Korea in May after visiting Pyongyang in April.
“A summit between China and North Korea, followed by a second US-North Korea summit and the inter-Korean summit will foster peace in northeast Asia,” he said.
A second meeting between Kim and US President Donald Trump has been on the cards for some time, although an exact date has yet to be announced.
However, Chinese sources briefed on the arrangement told the Post that the meeting would be held in Vietnam. Kim and Trump met for the first time on June 12 last year in Singapore.
Officials from South Korea’s foreign affairs ministry were quoted by local media on Thursday as saying that Singapore and Vietnam had been shortlisted to host the second summit.
Meanwhile, Trump told reporters at the White House last week that the two sides were “negotiating a location” for the second summit and that a final announcement would be made “in the not too distant future”.
While the Chinese sources did not offer a likely date for the second Trump-Kim summit, it is possible that the North Korean leader’s visit to Beijing was a precursor to it.
Kim’s second visit to Beijing came about a month before his Singapore meeting with Trump, and observers suggested he used it to maximise his bargaining power in his negotiations with the US president. Kim returned to Beijing a week after the historic talks, probably to debrief Xi.
Lee said on Sunday that he expected the second Trump-Kim summit to take place next month.
Despite the speculation as to when the meeting might take place, many analysts remain sceptical as to what it can actually achieve.
“The summit is supposed to break the deadlock, but it won’t be easy,” said Zhang Baohui, professor of political science and director of the Centre for Asian-Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. “The mistrust between them is so deep that neither is willing to make a unilateral move. They are trapped in a quagmire.”
Zhang said that Beijing might also try to use Xi’s visit to Pyongyang as a way to show Washington how the US and China need to work together on certain international issues.
“[China] could use the occasion to demonstrate its continuing relevance in the Korean peninsula issue,” he said. “Beijing wants Trump to see China as a useful partner, rather than a strategic competitor.”