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N Korea at crossroads

Xi urges Kim to move talks forward with US

North Korean leader frustrated at lack of positive responses from Washington

Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, shake hands before their meeting in Pyongyang. (CCTV via AP)

BEIJING/SEOUL -- Chinese President Xi Jinping encouraged North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Thursday to continue negotiations with the U.S. toward denuclearization, seeking to solidify China's role as a mediator on the issue ahead of his own meeting with President Donald Trump.

Xi and Kim met in the North Korean capital during the Chinese leader's two-day trip to the country. He is the first Chinese leader to visit the North in 14 years.

Xi praised North Korea for working toward denuclearization, state broadcaster China Central Television reported. The Chinese leader also expressed understanding by saying that the situation on the Korean Peninsula "is highly sensitive and complex."

Xi added that: "A strategic and long-term perspective is needed to accurately guide the evolution of the situation and effectively maintain peace and stability on the peninsula."

Kim, meanwhile, expressed his frustrations with the lack of progress with Washington. North Korea has "taken many active measures to avoid tensions and control the situation on the Korean Peninsula, but has not received positive responses from the party concerned," he said.

Xi said the international community hopes the talks between North Korea and the U.S. "will move forward and bear fruit."

China is ready to play "a positive and constructive role" in achieving the peninsula's denuclearization and long-term stability in the region, Xi said.

Thursday's talks comes ahead of Xi's upcoming summit with Trump, to be held on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka at the end of the month. Trump will likely try to rattle Beijing by bringing up the mass protests in Hong Kong and the human rights issue. 

Xi can use North Korea as a diplomatic card to counter Washington's excessive demands while pushing for greater cooperation.

Xi is expected to tout the "success" of the summit with Kim to Trump. By playing up Beijing's sway over Pyongyang, he aims to gain an edge in protracted trade negotiations.

But there is no guarantee that closer Beijing-Pyongyang ties would help Washington-Pyongyang relations. China's deeper involvement could end up making a breakthrough even more untenable.

The North wants to dismantle its nuclear capabilities in stages, in exchange for gradual sanctions relief by the United Nations Security Council. Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump remains firmly opposed to easing any sanctions until North Korea complete dismantles its nuclear program.

Xi arrived at the Pyongyang airport on Thursday morning, where he was greeted by Kim and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, China's Xinhua News Agency reported. About 250,000 North Koreans cheered in the streets as the leaders drove by.

High-ranking North Korean diplomat Kim Yong Chol was reportedly there as well, despite earlier reports that he had been purged after talks with the U.S. broke down.

The Chinese delegation includes Xi's wife Peng Liyuan, as well as Politburo member Yang Jiechi, Foreign Minister Wang Yi and National Development and Reform Commission minister He Lifeng.

This year is the 70th anniversary of diplomatic ties between China and North Korea. Kim is also holding a massive welcoming ceremony and banquet for Xi before he leaves on Friday.

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