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Kim Jong-un meets Xi Jinping in second surprise visit to China

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has made a second surprise visit to China to meet its president Xi Jinping amid a flurry of diplomacy as Kim prepares for a summit with US President Donald Trump.

Kim flew to the Chinese port city of Dalian and held talks "in a cordial and friendly atmosphere" with Xi over two days before returning to Pyongyang on Tuesday, China's official Xinhua News Agency said in announcing the trip. It is the second meeting between the two leaders in about 40 days, and was kept secret until Kim had left China.

Shortly after the summit was reported, Trump said on Twitter that he would speak to Xi by phone about North Korea, where he said "relationships and trust are building".

Kim and Xi discussed relations between their two countries as well as "major issues of common concern", and Kim restated Pyongyang's desire to relinquish its nuclear arsenal.

"It has been the DPRK's consistent and clear stand to achieve denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," Kim said, using the acronym for North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, according to paraphrased remarks reported by Xinhua.

"As long as relevant parties abolish their hostile policies and remove security threats against the DPRK, there is no need for the DPRK to be a nuclear state and denuclearization can be realized."

It was not immediately clear what security threats Kim was referring to, but experts have said that North Korea may push for the removal of some or all of the 28,000 US soldiers currently stationed in South Korea. The meeting comes as Kim prepares to meet Trump, who has said the date and location of the summit is fixed but has yet to make details public.

"I hope to build mutual trust with the US through dialogue," Kim was quoted as saying. He said that he hoped to take "phased and synchronous measures" in order to "eventually achieve" a formal peace treaty with Seoul – the two neighbors are still technically in a state of war – and a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.

The statement seemed to be at odds with demands from the US, which has called on North Korea to immediately disarm.

Chinese analysts speculated that Kim asked Xi for relief from the rounds of tough sanctions for which China grudgingly voted last year, at the urging of the United States. Those sanctions have drained the North's foreign-exchange reserves.

Xi praised Kim for "promoting inter-Korean dialogue and easing tension," according to the Chinese foreign ministry.

"China is willing to continue to work with all relevant parties and play an active role in comprehensively advancing the process of peaceful resolution of the peninsula issue through dialogue, and realizing long-term peace and stability in the region," Xi said.

Analysts expressed surprise at the frequent top-level exchanges between Beijing and Pyongyang and said that Kim's latest visit, which further reinforces Beijing's foothold on the Korean Peninsula, could have a major geopolitical impact.

Cheng Xiaohe, a deputy director of the Center for China's International Strategic Studies at Renmin University in Beijing said that Kim's Dalian trip showed it was imperative for both leaders to meet again before the proposed Kim-Trump summit.

"Kim's first China visit was properly a goodwill visit, but this one was more substantial, which I believe concerns the ultimate political settlement of the Korean issue," he said.

"What kind of role China can play in North Korea's denuclearization, and what China can do, would be the most important part of their conversation".

Cha Du-hyeogn, a visiting research fellow at Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, said that Kim's visit was intended to increase his bargaining power ahead of his scheduled summit with Trump.

"Kim is sending a clear message to the US that he will not be the only one compromising at the negotiating table. His visit also sends a message to Trump that there should be sufficient compensation in return for his denuclearization as China is backing him up. In this way Kim is using China as leverage ahead of the upcoming summit," he said.

Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia and Japan at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said that China's involvement would be needed in any detailed discussions about denuclearization.

Moreover, Green said that China would regard any progress toward peace on the Korean Peninsula as a strategic plus, since such progress would weaken the military alliances among the US, South Korea and Japan.

China's role would grow more important, he said, but the US did not believe that China is essential to any deal with North Korea.  "The Trump administration thinks they have enough leverage," Green said.

Regarding the possibility of trilateral meetings among the US and the two Koreas, Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst at the Rand Corporation, said that any such meetings would help force the US and South Korea to agree on how to negotiate North Korea's denuclearization.

"I remain unconvinced that both Moon and Trump are on the same page with their respective prioritizations of denuclearization," Grossman said.

On Tuesday morning, Trump and Xi discussed developments on the Korean Peninsula and Kim's visit to China during a phone call, the White House said.

Trump and Xi agreed on the importance of maintaining sanctions on Pyongyang until it permanently dismantles its nuclear and missile programs, the White House said. Chinese state media said that Xi reiterated China's support for a US-North Korea summit.

Chinese state television said that Xi said he "hopes the US and North Korea can build mutual trust, synchronize actions, resolve each sides' concerns through meeting and consultations, consider North Korea's reasonable security concerns, and jointly promote the political resolution process to the Korean Peninsula issue."

China is North Korea's most important economic and diplomatic backer, but Beijing has been angered by Pyongyang's repeated nuclear and missile tests.

The two sides have stepped up engagement since Trump surprised the world in March by saying that he would be willing to meet Kim in a bid to resolve the crisis over Pyongyang's development of nuclear missiles capable of hitting the US.

Trump also announced on Tuesday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was headed to Pyongyang to help prepare the summit meeting between Trump and Kim.

Pompeo said that he hoped to finalize plans for talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. He also said that he hoped North Korea would "do the right thing" and release three US citizens detained in the country.

It is Pompeo's second trip to Pyongyang after a meeting with Kim last month while he was CIA director.

A State Department official travelling with Pompeo said that the US would also be "listening for signs from North Korea that things have substantially changed" with the nation's nuclear ambitions.

Trump also referred to Pompeo's latest visit while announcing that the US was withdrawing from an Obama-era nuclear agreement with Iran.

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