North Korea's Kim Jong Un arrives in China on 4-day trip

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping for the fourth time in less than a year. The visit to Beijing comes as denuclearization talks with the US have stalled.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has arrived in Beijing for the start of a four-day trip, Chinese and North Korean state media reported, as preparations are being made for a second summit with US President Donald Trump.

Kim left Pyongyang by train and arrived Tuesday morning with his wife, Ri Sol Ju, and other top officials, North Korea's state media reported. The trip comes in response to an invitation from Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Read more: 2019: Will there be a breakthrough on the Korean Peninsula? 

It will be the fourth meeting in China between the reclusive North Korean leader and Xi in less than year. The two leaders first met last March, six years after Kim succeeded his father as leader.

Relations had soured between the two neighbors over the North's missile and nuclear tests that threatened to escalate into war with the United States before a diplomatic breakthrough last year. 

China is the main diplomatic ally and trading partner for isolated North Korea, and the visit signals the two neighbors are coordinating policy ahead of talks with Trump over denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.

"Both Xi and Kim see value in coordinating their positions in advance of Trump-Kim summits. That appears to be a pattern," Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told AFP.

"Kim also seeks Beijing's help in getting international sanctions eased."

Sanctions, denuclearization a stumbling block 

Since the historic Trump-Kim summit in Singapore last June, progress on the details of North Korea's denuclearization plans have stalled. However, in one major success for the US, the North has refrained from provocative nuclear or missile tests for more than a year. 

Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's historic summit in pictures

First meeting

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump shake hands as they meet for the first time. Unlike in past meetings with some world leaders, Trump did not try to pull Kim's hand towards him or hold on to the North Korean leader's hand too long.

Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's historic summit in pictures

From insults to 'special bond'

Trump and Kim appeared at ease with one another during the summit. Just a few months prior, Trump and Kim engaged in a war of words, trading insults like "little rocket man" and "mentally deranged." Following their meeting, Trump said he formed a "special bond" with Kim and that he'd like to invite him to the White House.

Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's historic summit in pictures

Who's leading whom?

Kim lays a hand on Trump's back as they leave after signing a joint statement pledging peace negotiations and denuclearization. Some critics worried that the US agreed to give up too many things in negotiations with Kim. At a press conference, Trump said he wanted to stop US military exercises with South Korea and eventually withdraw US troops — something Pyongyang has been demanding for years.

Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's historic summit in pictures

Four-point agreement

Trump displays the joint agreement he signed with Kim. In the four-point document, Kim agreed to the "complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula." In exchange, Trump agreed to provide "security guarantees" to Pyongyang. The two leaders also agreed to build a "robust peace regime" and to return the remains of prisoners of the 1950-1953 Korean War.

Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's historic summit in pictures

All eyes on Trump and Kim

South Koreans watch the summit on a screen located at a train station in Seoul. Ahead of the event, critics expressed concern that the meeting between the two leaders would be purely symbolic and not bring concrete progress to easing tensions. Indeed, the agreement did not specify what exact measures would be taken.

Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's historic summit in pictures

Honoring 'the bromance' in Singapore

A bartender in Singapore crafted a special drink for the summit, dubbed "The Bromance." The meeting was held on Singapore's Sentosa island, a resort area with luxury hotels and a theme park. The island's security was massively increased ahead of the summit, while local businesses marked the occasion with special Trump-Kim branded water and drinks.

The US wants solid assurances and verification that North Korea will dismantle its nuclear program before it ends its sanctions, while Pyongyang is seeking the lifting of international sanctions and a peace treaty officially ending the 1950-1953 Korean War.

Meanwhile, on the diplomatic front, North and South Korea have taken confidence-building measures, with exchanges between top officials and meetings between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Seoul "expects that high-level exchanges between the North and China ... will be able to contribute to the complete denuclearization and establishment of permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula," a South Korean Foreign Ministry official said Tuesday, according to the Yonhap News Agency.

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North relying on China

In a New Year's speech, Kim said he is ready to meet with Trump anytime to discuss denuclearization. But he also warned that he may seek alternatives to a summit with Trump if sanctions are not lifted.

Analysts interpreted the comments to mean that North Korea could rely on China to ease pressure if talks with the United States collapse.

"Kim is eager to remind the Trump administration that he does have diplomatic and economic options besides what Washington and Seoul can offer," Harry J. Kazianis, director of defense studies at US-based Center for the National Interest, told Reuters.

"In fact, during his New Year's Day speech, Kim's 'new way' that he referred to may well have been a veiled threat to move closer to Beijing," he said.

However, in an interview with CNBC on Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said China was helping in resolving issues on the Korean Peninsula.

"China has actually been a good partner in our efforts to reduce the risk to the world from North Korea's nuclear capability; I expect they will continue to do so," he said. 

Joy and tears at Korean reunions

A trip to the North

The South Korean participants, who had been selected by a computerized lottery system, were taken by bus to North Korea's Mount Kumgan resort in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas. Waiting lists for the reunions are long and as the would-be participants are often aged, some never get the chance: Last year alone, 3,800 South Koreans died without ever seeing their relatives

Joy and tears at Korean reunions

Full of anticipation

The reunions were started after a historic North-South summit in 2000. Twenty have been held since then, with the last occurring in 2015. The meetings take place at moments when there is a thaw in relations between the two former warring nations. The system used to select the North Korean participants is unknown, but is thought to be based on loyalty to the regime.

Joy and tears at Korean reunions

Arriving at customs

The participants will be allowed to meet six times for a total of 11 hours during their three-day stay, according to the South Korean news agency Yonhap. Four of the originally 93 families from the South that were selected ended up cancelling, as family members were too ill to make the journey to the North.

Joy and tears at Korean reunions

Old photos were all they had

Families were brutally rent asunder by the Korean War, which ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty, meaning that the two Koreas are theoretically still at war. The Korean Peninsula remains divided by the DMZ. Many South Koreans with relatives in the North, like this man, cherished the photos that reminded them of their loved ones during the long separation.

Joy and tears at Korean reunions

Aged and determined

Many of the participants are frail with age, but their burning desire to see their loved ones again has given them the strength necessary to undertake the journey. The meetings have in the past brought together siblings, parents and children and husbands and wives. But such meetings between immediate family members are getting rare. Most are now with close relatives such as cousins.

Joy and tears at Korean reunions

Pain and joy

As could be expected, the meetings can be highly emotional experiences — they are likely to be the only, and last, time relatives get to see each other.

Joy and tears at Korean reunions

Making the most of a short visit

Many South Koreans bring presents of clothing, medications and food for their relatives in the North, whose population lives in relative poverty. But the most important gift is simply the fact that they can see and hold one another.

cw/cmk (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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