January 7, 2019 / 3:45 PM / 6 months ago

North Korea's Kim visiting China for fourth summit: media

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is on his way to China for his fourth summit with China’s Xi Jinping, South Korean media said on Monday.

South Korea’s Hankyoreh newspaper, citing an unidentified source with close knowledge of North Korea-China affairs, reported that Kim was traveling to Beijing late on Monday to meet with Xi.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing an unspecified source familiar with North Korea issues, said a North Korean train possibly carrying a “high-level” official had crossed the border into China.

The source told Yonhap it had not been confirmed whether a senior official was on board, but that dozens of security vehicles and officials had blocked the roads around a station in the Chinese border city of Dandong as the train passed.

Last year Kim traveled to China three times to meet with Xi, before and after Kim held other summits with U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Kim is expected to meet again with both the U.S. and South Korean presidents in the near future, and another visit to China has been seen as a possible move before those summits.

Earlier on Monday the South Korean newspaper Munhwa Ilbo reported that U.S. State Department officials recently met multiple times with North Korean counterparts in Hanoi and discussed planning a second summit between Trump and Kim, fuelling speculation that Vietnam could host the event.

The U.S. State Department and White House declined to comment on the Munhwa Ilbo report and the State Department referred queries about Kim’s reported China visit to the Chinese government.

In an interview with CNBC, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised China’s support for resolving the North Korean crisis and said he did not think the U.S. trade dispute with Beijing would affect this.

“The Chinese have been very clear to us that these are separate issues,” Pompeo said.

“Their behavior has demonstrated that as well and we appreciate that. 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.”

At a landmark June summit in Singapore, Kim and Trump pledged to work toward denuclearization, but the pact was light on details and talks since have made little headway.

China is North Korea’s most important economic and diplomatic backer, despite anger over its neighbor’s nuclear and missile programs. Ties have warmed in the last year as Pyongyang’s relations with both Seoul and Washington have also improved.

FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un poses for photos in Pyongyang in this January 1, 2019 photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA/via REUTERS.

China also played a role in Trump’s meeting with Kim, lending the North Korean leader an airliner for his trip to Singapore.

Diplomatic sources say Xi will probably go to North Korea at some point soon, which would make him the first Chinese leader to do so since 2005.

In early December, Xi told North Korea’s foreign minister during a visit in Beijing that he “hoped North Korea and the United States meet each other halfway and address each other’s reasonable concerns, allowing positive progress on the peninsula’s nuclear talks.”

Additional reporting by Josh Smith in Seoul and David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Editing by Catherine Evans and James Dalgleish

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