North Korea's Kim ends Beijing visit as Trump summit looms

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Singapore and Vietnam are likely to be shortlisted to host a second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and United States President Donald Trump, South Korean foreign affairs ministry officials said on Thursday (Jan 10).

Experts think Kim's China trip was meant to discuss strategies with his closest ally ahead of a possible summit with Trump, adding that it also appears aimed at strengthening the North's negotiating leverage by demonstrating its strong ties with Beijing.

Mr Xi said China supported North Korea and the United States "holding summits and achieving results, and supports relevant parties resolving their respective legitimate concerns through dialogue".

North Korea will "make efforts for the second summit between (North Korean) and USA leaders to achieve results that will be welcomed by the worldwide community", Kim was quoted as saying by China's official Xinhua News Agency.

Trump and Kim met in Singapore in June for the first-ever leaders' meeting between their nations, but there has been a standoff ever since, with duelling accusations of bad faith.

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Kim spent a little more than a day in the Chinese capital and was en route to Pyongyang by 2 p.m. Wednesday local time, Yonhap News Agency of South Korea reported, citing unidentified officials. "China and the DPRK are friendly and close neighbours and it is also an important tradition for us to maintain friendly exchanges", Lu said, referring to North Korea's formal name.

The fact that Kim's visit came at the same time USA negotiators were in China to discuss an end to the trade war is also unlikely to be a coincidence, said Sangsoo Lee, head of the Stockholm-based Korea Center at the Institute for Security and Development Policy, adding that there could "political intention" behind it.

Analysts here said the North Korean leader is seeking to strengthen its negotiating position by aligning the country and China ahead of his meeting with Trump.

Progress has been slow ever since as the North wants sanctions relief, while the U.S. remains firm that sanctions will remain in place until the North completely gives up its nuclear weapons program.

Pyongyang has a long history of playing major powers off against each other, with Kim's predecessor and grandfather Kim Il Sung adept at winning backing from the then Communist rivals Beijing and Moscow in turn.

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Xi told Kim that that China supports the U.S.

During the visit, the North Korean leader met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, and visited a pharmaceutical factory in southern Beijing, in addition to a high-tech economic development zone.

Meanwhile, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un expressed hope that interested parties will provide assistance in the process of denuclearlization on the Korean Peninsula.

"China has always supported both sides to continue to hold talks and to reach a positive outcome", Lu said. Experts agree that while neither the United States nor China is "winning" in the trade war, China may be at a disadvantage.

"Kim also made the visit as a gesture that he wouldn't beg for an early North Korea-US summit", said Cha Du-hyeogn, a visiting scholar at Seoul's Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

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Recently, China may be doing more of the latter, says James Kim, pointing to ongoing rumours of "de facto loosening of sanctions implementation in China".

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