North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has paid a second visit to China in two months, meeting with President Xi Jinping ahead of highly anticipated talks between Kim and US President Donald Trump.
Kim met Xi in the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian on Monday and Tuesday, according to China's foreign ministry. The leaders met in person for the first time during a secret meeting in the Chinese capital of Beijing in late March, which was widely viewed as a sign of warming ties between the two fractious allies.
North Korean state media KCTV said Kim flew to Dalian Monday on his private jet, where he was welcomed by high-profile Chinese officials including Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Xi held a welcome banquet for the North Korean leader and took a casual stroll with him along a beach, Chinese state media Xinhua reported.
Xi praised Kim for "promoting inter-Korean dialogue and easing tension," with both leaders reiterating their commitment to denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula, according to the Chinese foreign ministry.
But in a warning to the United States, Kim said he was willing to denuclearize "as long as relevant parties eliminate the hostile policy and security threats" against Pyongyang.
The talks come amid a flurry of diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula, including a landmark summit in late April between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
In an unprecedented meeting at the demilitarized zone separating the two countries, Kim became the first North Korean leader to step into South Korean territory since 1953.
During the summit, Kim and Moon committed themselves to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and pledged to bring a formal end to the Korean War, 65 years after hostilities ceased.
The North Korean leader's greatest test may still be to come, however, when he sits down for face-to-face talks with Trump that are expected to take place by late May or early June.
'A historical new golden era'
Speculation had been swirling online earlier Tuesday of a mystery visitor to the northern Chinese province, including reports of a North Korean plane touching down.
In the past, North Korean leaders have been reluctant to travel by air on international journeys, especially Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, who famously went everywhere in his personal armored train.
Kim was likely seeking guidance from the Chinese leader ahead of his high-profile summit with Trump, according to former British charge d'affaires to North Korea Jim Hoare. "Kim Jong Un is looking for advice, support and encouragement," he told CNN.
On the Chinese side, experts say Beijing has been desperate to ensure Pyongyang doesn't move outside its orbit as Kim steps out onto the diplomatic world stage.
Xi said he was pleased to see Kim visiting China again so soon after his first trip, saying it showed how seriously the North Korean leader took the bilateral relationship.
While China and North Korea have long been allies, their diplomatic relationship grew rocky following Kim's rise to power in 2011.
The young leader stirred up tensions on the Korean Peninsula with his nuclear weapons testing and purging of several key officials close to Beijing, including his uncle, Jang Song Thaek.
But on Tuesday, North Korean state media KCNA praised the relationship between the two countries as "in the midst of a historical new golden era."
"In a cordial and friendly atmosphere, the top leaders of the two parties and the two countries had an all-round and in-depth exchange of views on China-DPRK relations and major issues of common concern," Xinhua reported.
Top-level officials from both North Korea and China attended the summit, including Kim's sister Kim Yo Jong and Wang Huning, a member of China's powerful seven-man Politburo Standing Committee, according to Chinese state media.
The Chinese President is reportedly planning a trip to the North Korean capital Pyongyang, an official told CNN in April, but no date has been announced as yet.
After news of the meeting between the two leaders was released, Trump announced that he would be speaking to "my friend" Xi on Tuesday.
"The primary topics will be trade, where good things will happen, and North Korea, where relationships and trust are building," Trump tweeted.