BEIJING — The motorcade of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un headed out Wednesday morning to an unannounced destination on the second full day of a visit to China that has been shrouded in secrecy but is seen as part of preparations for a possible second summit with President Donald Trump.
Kim could not be seen but the limousine he uses was observed zipping east down a main thoroughfare in Beijing and then returning about an hour later.
His trip to China, the fourth in the past 10 months, is believed to be an effort to coordinate with his only major ally ahead of a possible second meeting with Trump. It comes after U.S. and North Korean officials are thought to have met in Vietnam to discuss the site of the summit.
North Korean and Chinese state media have announced his visit but provided no details of what he has done since arriving aboard his personal armored train on Tuesday morning.
He was believed to have met with President Xi Jinping Xi on Tuesday afternoon, but no news has been released about the day’s events.
At Tuesday’s daily Foreign Ministry briefing, spokesman Lu Kang gave no details about Kim’s schedule or China’s role as an intermediary between the U.S. and North Korea. He said Beijing remains supportive of efforts to end tensions over U.S. demands for a halt to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
“We always believe that, as key parties to the Korean Peninsula issue, it’s important for the two sides to maintain contact and we always support their dialogue to achieve positive outcomes,” Lu told reporters.
He said further information about Kim’s activities, the outcome of his meetings and a possible visit by Xi to North Korea would be “released in due course.”
North Korea’s state news agency said Kim departed Monday afternoon with his wife, Ri Sol Ju, and other top officials. Tuesday was Kim’s birthday.
Kim’s visit is also seen as part of an effort to win Chinese support for a reduction of U.N. sanctions imposed over his nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs that have severely impacted his country’s already ailing economy.
While North Korea hasn’t conducted any launches or detonations in more than a year, it’s displayed no real intention of abandoning the programs that are seen as guaranteeing the hard-line communist regime’s survival.
Kim’s visit also comes after he expressed frustration in his annual New Year’s address over the lack of progress in negotiations with Washington since the Singapore summit with Trump in June, saying that if things don’t improve — meaning that if sanctions relief and security guarantees aren’t in the offing —Pyongyang might have to find “a new way” forward.
While Trump says he considers Xi key to enticing Kim into taking concrete steps toward denuclearization, the president’s own relationship with his Chinese counterpart has frayed over the U.S.-China trade war.
Officially, at least, China says it considers the tariff battle and North Korea’s weapons programs to be entirely separate.
Associated Press writer Eric Talmadge in Tokyo contributed to this report.