North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's surprising "birthday" trip to China has strengthened the view that Beijing will use denuclearization talks as a bargaining chip for future trade negotiations with the United States.
Mr Kim's trip, announced earlier by both sides, comes after USA and North Korean officials are believed to have met in Vietnam to discuss the location of a second summit.
The North's official Rodong Sinmun reported on its front page Tuesday that Kim, accompanied by his wife Ri Sol-ju and top aides, kicked off a four-day visit to China Monday at the invitation of Xi.
"His arrival in Beijing, which coincided with Mr. Kim's birthday on Thursday, comes as Pyongyang expresses increasing frustration at the USA approach in stalled denuclearization talks", the Wall Street Journal reports.
Whether North Korea is ready to accept that outcome boils down to whether Kim is truly ready to do business with first China, then South Korea, and then the wider world.
The officials warmly saw Kim Jong Un off, wholeheartedly wishing him good successes in his visit to China and a safe trip.
"Forcing the USA out of Korea, and out of East Asia, is more important to Beijing than reigning in ... a self-confident or even provocative North Korea", he wrote.
Earlier, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that a North Korean train "possibly carrying a senior official" had crossed the border into China, passing through the Chinese border city of Dandong.
"At different times, our interactions are different, but communication is maintained", Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regular press briefing. The two countries' state media are seen to have coordinated the announcement.
Kim's arrival in Beijing coincides with U.S.
Kim wants to get out from under sanctions, and Xi holds the key. The timeline may have overlapped with the two events taking place at the same time, he said.
His fourth visit to China comes a week after Kim warned in a New Year's speech that Pyongyang may change its approach to nuclear talks if Washington persists with sanctions. Tuesday also marked Kim's 35th birthday.
During his first meeting with Xi a year ago in March, which was also his first overseas trip since assuming the mantle of leadership in North Korea in December 2011 after his father Kim Jong Il's death, the Chinese president emphasized the importance of "high-level exchanges" between the two countries.
In a New Year's address, Kim noted the need to "actively promote multi-party negotiations" to replace the current cease-fire on the Korean Peninsula "with a peace mechanism in close contact with the signatories to the armistice agreement".
While there were no details released about the possible agenda in China, Kim has been seeking relief from global sanctions, a peace declaration to formally end the 1950-1953 Korean War, and more economic investment.
"Kim is eager to remind the Trump administration that he does have diplomatic and economic options besides what Washington and Seoul can offer", Harry J. Kazianis, Director of Defence Studies at the USA -based Centre for the National Interest, said in an e-mailed statement.
As talks with the United States stall over ending North Korea's nuclear weapons program, a question hangs: Will he and Trump meet again? "Kim is eager to remind the Trump administration that he does have diplomatic and economic options besides what Washington and Seoul can offer", Harry J. Kazianis, Director of Defence Studies at USA -based Centre for the National Interest said in an e-mailed statement. "Kim will coordinate his USA policy with Xi before talking to Trump, like he did before the June 2018 summit". -China trade talks in Beijing that seek to end the trade dispute between the world's two largest economies ahead of a March deadline. Trump has at times linked the U.S.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang gave no details about Kim's schedule or China's role as an intermediary between the US and North Korea.
Trump while seeking Xi's support in forcing Kim to relent and give up the nuclear and missile programme also blamed the Chinese leader a year ago for tardy progress after his first summit with Kim at Singapore in June.
Neither KCNA nor Xinhua provided further information on Kim's itinerary, though South Korea's Hankyoreh newspaper said on Monday that he will meet with China's Xi for a fourth summit.