North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is visiting China at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping, only days after warning he may take an alternative path if the United States does not ease sanctions and pressure on his country.
South Korean media also reported Monday night that a private armored train believed to be Kim's was embarking on an overnight trip to China.
It said he was accompanied by his wife, Ri Sol Ju, and senior officials, including Kim Yong Chol, Kim's right-hand man in diplomatic negotiations with the United States and South Korea.
Tuesday was Kim's 35th birthday, according to South Korea's Unification Ministry, although the date hasn't been confirmed by North Korea.
Kim's trip coincides with the second day of talks between USA and Chinese officials in Beijing aimed at resolving their trade war, but China rejected the notion that it was using the North Korean issue as a bargaining chip in the negotiations.
The meeting with Mr Xi marked the fourth time Mr Kim has met the Chinese leader in less than a year and has fuelled talk that another face-to-face encounter with Mr Trump is imminent.
Kim is making a four-day trip to China in what's likely an effort by to coordinate with his only major ally ahead of a summit with U.S. President Donald Trump that could happen early this year.
Trump has repeatedly said he will meet with Kim again in the near future, but the two sides have failed to agree on anything significant enough to hold another summit yet.
With its relations with Pyongyang remaining at an impasse, the United States has become anxious that China may seize the initiative on denuclearization negotiations with North Korea, pundits say.
China, which is North Korea's most important ally, has been providing a lifeline to the isolated nation amid tough United Nations sanctions that have crippled its economy. The timing of the visit - as USA and Chinese officials work to hash out a trade deal - has some wondering whether Beijing is trying its hand at playing the so-called North Korea card, to use the issue as leverage.
While no details were released about an agenda in China, the North Korean leader has been seeking relief from sanctions, a peace declaration to formally end the 1950-1953 Korean War and more investment.
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.
"We especially hope that the exchange between China and North Korea this time will be a stepping stone for the second North Korea-U.S. summit", Kim said.
His visit to Beijing, which is stated to be closest ally of Pyongyang, comes at a time when China itself is locked in a trade war with the U.S. over Trump's demand to reduce the United States dollars 375 billion trade deficit with the US.
In his New Year's address on January 1, Kim also emphasized the importance of promoting multilateral talks on creating a "peace mechanism" in the region instead of an armistice agreement that halted the Korean War, in apparent consideration of China.
Kim held three summits a year ago with Xi, his most important ally, before and after summits with Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Kim's trip, announced earlier by both sides, comes after USA and North Korean officials are thought to have met in Vietnam to discuss the site of a second summit. -North Korea summit and strengthening bilateral ties.
"But Kim Jong Un's visit to Beijing could indirectly show President Trump that although China has maybe less economic cards, China still has some strategic and diplomatic cards", Shi said.
Kim's latest visit coincided with the second day of the crucial trade talks between the USA and Chinese officials here.
"As to whether this is used as a bargaining chip by China in trade talks, I believe more Americans would think so than Chinese do", the tweet went on to say.
In May 2018, Trump once chose to cancel his planned talks with Kim, saying he detected North Korea starting to take a tougher stance against the United States in the wake of the second summit between Beijing and Pyongyang earlier in the month.
But despite a cooling of relations past year with China over the imposition of sanctions, China has and remains its most important economic and diplomatic ally. "China has actually been a good partner in our efforts to reduce the risk to the world from North Korea's nuclear capability".
For example, an investigation in 2013 found that a staff member had made "inappropriate, sexual statements" about four clients. After the incident, she was "horrified" about his reaction and said that "by law, we are supposed to report things like that".
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So in order to post the tweet on time at midnight, they resorted to using an iPhone with a roaming SIM card in it. The tweet, posted on New Year's Day, wished followers a "Happy #2019" while displaying "via Twitter for iPhone".
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