In this photo released Wednesday, March 28, 2018 by China's Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping, second from right, and his wife Peng Liyuan, right, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, second from left, and his wife Ri Sol Ju, left, pose for a photo at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. The Chinese government confirmed Wednesday that North Korea's reclusive leader Kim went to Beijing and met with Chinese President Xi in his first known trip to a foreign country since he took power in 2011. (Ju Peng/Xinhua via AP)
Kim Jong Un makes surprise visit to China
00:56 - Source: CNN
Beijing CNN  — 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has made his first foreign trip since assuming power in 2011, meeting China’s President Xi Jinping in Beijing and discussing giving up the country’s nuclear weapons, according to Chinese state media.

Kim, who made the surprise trip to the Chinese capital at Beijing’s request, said he felt compelled to personally inform President Xi of the rapid diplomatic developments on the Korean Peninsula in recent weeks, Xinhua reported.

The visit represents stunning shift for Kim, who appears to be fashioning himself as a leader in search of a peaceful solution to the crisis on the Korean Peninsula. It’s in sharp contrast to 2017, when Kim oversaw a string of missile and nuclear tests that drew the ire of the international community.

Kim’s trip was the first of three potential meetings with some of the world’s most powerful leaders.

Kim is set to attend a summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in next month, and will later meet US President Donald Trump, in what would be an historic first encounter between a sitting US President and a North Korean leader.

Trump tweeted Wednesday that Xi told him his meeting with Kim went “very well.”

The US President added he was optimistic Kim will “do what is right for his people and for humanity. Look forward to our meeting!”

Key points:

  • Kim said he was committed to denuclearization but with conditions, Xinhua reported
  • Xi hosted a grand banquet for Kim at the Great Hall of the People
  • Kim traveled to China by train on March 25 and spent two days in Beijing
  • North Korean state media said Xi accepted an invitation to visit Pyongyang
  • White House said it was informed of the meeting Tuesday
In this photo released Wednesday by China's Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping, fourth from left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, second from right, meet at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Analysts said the visit was a courtesy call aimed at shoring up Pyongyang’s ties with China, a traditional ally and major trading partner. Leaders from the two countries haven’t met since 2011, with ties souring after Kim purged some of Beijing’s allies in North Korea and the isolated nation relentlessly pursued its development of nuclear weapons.

Kim called for a “new era” in bilateral relations in a letter to Xi published by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), which also reported that Xi had accepted an invitation to visit North Korea “at a convenient time.” The acceptance of the invitation was not reported by Chinese state media although Xinhua said that Xi would keep in frequent contact, which could include exchange of visits.

From left to right: Ri Sol Ju, North Korea's first lady; North Korean leader Kim Jong Un; Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife, Peng Liuyan.

“In this spring full of happiness and hopes, I believe my first meeting with General Secretary Xi Jinping will yield abundant fruits of DPRK-China friendship, and facilitate peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” said Kim, referring to Xi by his title as leader of the Chinese Communist Party.

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Kim made his trip “at the invitation” of Xi, state media from both countries reported. While billed as an unofficial visit, Kim got red-carpet treatment in Beijing, including a banquet at the Great Hall of the People.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, (left) wave to Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife, Peng Liyuan (right) in photos released by North Korean state media.

An equal player?

North Korea’s diplomatic charm offensive is likely part of an attempt to show Kim as a world player equal in stature to leaders like Xi, said Jean Lee, an analyst at the Hyundai Motor-Korea Foundation Center for Korean History and Public Policy at The Wilson Center.

“We’re seeing a carefully crafted North Korean strategy on diplomacy unfold on the world stage, starting with Beijing,” Lee said.

“He’s positioned himself as the peacemaker, he’s made all the first moves.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (right) are seen together in Beijing in a photograph released by North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency.

Chinese state media quoted Kim as saying that he is committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, a key Chinese goal, but Lee warned Kim would seek major concessions in exchange for giving up nuclear weapons.

“The issue of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula can be resolved, if South Korea and the United States respond to our efforts with goodwill, create an atmosphere of peace and stability while taking progressive and synchronous measures for the realization of peace,” Kim said, according to Xinhua.

North Korean state media made no mention of nuclear weapons in its coverage of the m