Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea and chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), is visiting China at the invitation of Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Chinese president, according to Xinhua.
Kim arrived Monday on his first visit to China in 2019 and will leave on Thursday.
Last year, the DPRK leader paid three visits to China between March and June, before and after summits with U.S. President Donald Trump and president of the Republic of Korea (ROK) Moon Jae-in.
Kim is expected to meet again with both Trump and Moon in the near future and this visit to Beijing is seen as a move before those summits take place.
In separate letters sent to the presidents of the U.S. and the ROK at the turn of the year, Kim expressed the DPRK's willingness to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and enhance inter-Korean relations.
Timing of the visit
Kim's ongoing tour in China comes ahead of his respective meetings with the U.S. and the ROK presidents as talks over denuclearization hit an impasse.
In a televised New Year address, the DPRK leader said he is ready to meet Trump again at any time, but warned that Pyongyang could be forced to take a new path if Washington breaks its promise and misjudges the patience of the DPRK people while unilaterally forcing certain things and keeping on sanctions and pressure.
Chinese Foreign Ministry urged the two sides to "accommodate each other's legitimate concerns" and have more dialogues.
"China encourages and supports the DPRK and the U.S. in having more dialogues for positive outcomes," ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regular press briefing last week. "We hope that the DPRK and the U.S. could respect and accommodate each other's legitimate concerns and make positive progress in promoting the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the building of a peace mechanism on the Korean Peninsula in the new year. China will continue to play a part in this regard."
Commenting on Kim's current visit to China, Li Nan, an associate research fellow at the Institute of American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told CGTN that the visit is "very important for" and "closely related to" Kim's probable meeting with Trump later this year.
Harry J Kazianis, director of Defense Studies at the Center for the National Interest, a U.S. think tank, believes Kim is sending a message to Washington by visiting Beijing, Reuters reported.
"Kim is eager to remind the Trump administration that he does have diplomatic and economic options besides what Washington and Seoul can offer," he noted.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the Seoul-based University of North Korean Studies, said Kim's trip to China is intended to demonstrate the strong ties between Pyongyang and Beijing, according to a Yonhap report.
"It is rare that the North's (DPRK) leader travels overseas at the start of the year. (His trip to China) shows how important it is to advance relations between the North (DPRK) and China," Yang said.
t is also believed that Kim will celebrate his birthday on Tuesday during his stay in China.
Kim's previous visits to China
In late March last year, Kim visited Beijing and met with President Xi and other top Chinese officials, which was his first trip abroad as the DPRK leader.
Following a historic summit between Kim and Moon on April 27, Kim traveled to Dalian in northeast China's Liaoning Province in early May. Xi and Kim held talks over two days in the coastal city.
Kim's third visit to China came days after his summit with Trump in Singapore in June last year. Xi underscored Beijing's firm stance to strengthen ties with Pyongyang during their talks.
"No matter how the international and regional situations change, the firm stance of the CPC and the Chinese government on consolidating and developing the relations with the DPRK remains unchanged, the Chinese people's friendship with the DPRK people remains unchanged, and China's support for the socialist DPRK remains unchanged," Xi said.
Kim expressed the DPRK's willingness to "work with China and other concerned parties to promote the establishment of a lasting and solid peace mechanism on the Korean Peninsula."
DPRK's Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho paid a visit to Beijing last month and met with Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Wang noted that the two countries will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic relations in 2019.
In a telephone conversation with Trump on December 29, Xi reiterated that China encourages and supports further talks between the U.S. and the DPRK, and hopes for positive results.
(With inputs from Xinhua)