DALIAN, China — President Xi Jinping of China met with

Kim Jong-un Returns to China, Bolstering Ties With Xi Jinping

DALIAN, China — President Xi Jinping of China met with Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, on Tuesday, for the second time in two months, continuing a flurry of diplomacy over the North’s nuclear program.

The meeting in the Chinese port city of Dalian near the North Korean border, came as China tries to regain a central role in the fast-moving diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula.

It was announced on China’s state broadcaster, CCTV, which said that Mr. Kim arrived in Dalian on Monday and left on Tuesday.

Xinhua, the official news agency, reported that Mr. Xi and Mr. Kim “took a stroll and attended a luncheon.” It added: “In a cordial and friendly atmosphere, the top leaders of the two parties and the two countries had an all-round and in-depth exchange of views” on relations between their two countries.

The visit came just before China’s premier, Li Keqiang, was scheduled to go to Tokyo on Wednesday to meet President Moon Jae-in of South Korea and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. The three are expected to discuss North Korean denuclearization among other issues.

Chinese analysts had speculated that Mr. Kim went to Dalian to ask Mr. Xi for sanctions relief. At the urging of the Trump administration, China grudgingly voted last year for United Nations sanctions that have hurt the North’s economy, draining its reserves of foreign currency.

Mr. Kim recently met Mr. Moon, who is eager to help the North with economic aid. Their meeting also gave the North Korean leader new leverage with Mr. Xi. In essence, Mr. Kim can say that if China does not help ease the North’s economic pain, South Korea will.

The two meetings between Mr. Xi and Mr. Kim represent a dramatic change from the frosty period, starting when Mr. Kim took power in 2011, when the two leaders refused to meet each other.

In unusually positive language, Mr. Xi said that the North Korean leader had come “to meet me again just after 40-odd days” and “at a crucial time when the Korean Peninsula situation is undergoing profound and complex changes,” according to Xinhua.

Chinese state news outlets made pointed references to the fact that Mr. Kim had stayed overnight, making it a longer visit than the one last month between Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon of South Korea.

Xinhua quoted Mr. Kim as saying he came to China again to “strengthen strategic communication” with Mr. Xi.

But Chinese analysts say the warmth between the two leaders should not be overstated, and that Mr. Kim retains his streak of independence.
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“North Korea was never a vassal state,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor at Renmin University of China in Beijing. It is even less so now that the United States has agreed to deal with Mr. Kim, he said.

By meeting Mr. Xi again, Mr. Kim would also most likely be trying to get China’s backing for his diplomatic overtures to President Trump, while assuring China, North Korea’s longtime ally, that it is not being left out of the diplomatic maneuvering with Washington. Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim are expected to meet later this month or in June.

Hours after Mr. Kim flew home from Dalian, Mr. Trump tweeted that he would speak with Mr. Xi about the visit, as well as trade.

Like Mr. Kim’s visit to Beijing in March, his visit to Dalian was kept under wraps. But early Tuesday afternoon, the Japanese news service Kyodo reported that a plane from the North Korean carrier Air Koryo was at Dalian’s airport.

Chinese officials will be heading to Tokyo for meetings on Wednesday with South Korean and Japanese counterparts as part of the recent burst of diplomacy over North Korea. Japan, the host of the talks, has been pushing the United States to continue a tough line against Pyongyang.

North Korean state news media on Tuesday criticized Japan for continuing to support tough sanctions against the North, with Rodong Sinmun, the country’s official newspaper, calling it “tantamount to throwing cold water over easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula.”

But Mr. Moon, who as South Korea’s leader has pushed for engagement with Pyongyang, urged Japan to consider normalizing ties with North Korea.

“I think dialogue between Japan and North Korea should be resumed,” Mr. Moon said in an interview Tuesday with the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri.

“If Japan-North Korea relations are normalized, that would greatly contribute to peace and security in Northeast Asia beyond the Korean Peninsula,” he said in written answers to questions submitted by the newspaper.

Dalian was also the site of a 2010 meeting between Mr. Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, and Mr. Li, who is now China’s premier. The city is a short flight or train ride from Pyongyang, making it a convenient venue for talks between the two nations.

Mr. Kim, apparently not as fearful of flying as his father, traveled by plane. His father came to China by a slow-moving train.

Source: nytimes.com