North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrived in Beijing on Tuesday, where he will likely brief Chinese President Xi Jinping on his summit with United States President Donald Trump last week, as Washington and Seoul agreed to suspend a major joint military exercise.
Trump agreed to work with Kim toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, committed to provide the Northâ€™s regime with security guarantees and pledged to end â€œwar gamesâ€, which Pyongyang and Beijing have long seen as provocative. South Korea and the Pentagon announced they would halt the annual Freedom Guardian military drill scheduled for August.
In an unusual move, Chinese state media announced Kimâ€™s visit and said he would stay for two days. Previously China would only confirm Kim had visited after he had left the country. No other details were provided.
A Kim trip to China to discuss his summit with Trump had been widely anticipated in diplomatic circles. China is North Koreaâ€™s most important diplomatic and economic backer but has been angered by Pyongyangâ€™s nuclear and missile tests.
Police tightened security along Beijingâ€™s main Changan Avenue, which leads to the Great Hall of the People where Chinese leaders normally meet visiting heads of state, and also outside the Diaoyutai State Guest House, where Kim stayed with his wife during his March visit to Beijing.
Outside the east gate of the Great Hall, where foreign leaders are officially welcomed, authorities had erected a screen running the full length of the road, cutting off the view behind it.
South Koreaâ€™s foreign ministry spokesman said the governments of South Korea and China shared the same strategic goal of completely denuclearising the Korean peninsula.
â€œOur government hopes China will play a constructive role in resolving this problem,â€ spokesman Noh Kyu-deok told a regular briefing. â€œWe hope Chairman Kim Jong Unâ€™s visit will contribute to that.â€
China has welcomed the warming of ties between Washington and Pyongyang, and offered to help.
Beijing has been particularly pleased by Trumpâ€™s announcement to suspend military drills, which China has long pushed for under its â€œdual suspensionâ€ proposal, whereby North Korea stops weapons tests and the United States and South Korea stop military drills, so both sides can sit down for talks.
â€œSouth Korea and the United States have agreed to suspend all planning activities regarding the Freedom Guardian military drill scheduled for August,â€ according to a South Korean defence ministry statement.
A Pentagon statement confirmed the suspension, adding there would be a meeting between the secretaries of defence and state as well as Trumpâ€™s national security adviser on the issue this week.
Last year, 17,500 American and more than 50,000 South Korean troops participated in the Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills, although the exercise is mostly focused on computerised simulations rather than live field exercises that use weapons, tanks or aircraft.
The US-South Korean exercise calendar hits a high point every spring with the Foal Eagle and Max Thunder drills, which both wrapped up last month.
The decision to halt military exercises in South Korea has bewildered many current and former US defence officials, who only learned about it when Trump made his remarks after the Singapore meeting.
Japanâ€™s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Tuesday there would be no changes to joint drill plans between the United States and Japan, both of which also engage in regular deterrence exercises against North Korea. (Reuters)