North Korea's Kim Jong Un arrives in Beijing for talks

Thae Yong-ho who fled his post as North Korea's deputy ambassador to Britain in August 2016

Kim left for China on a private train on Monday afternoon accompanied by his wife, Ri Sol Ju, and senior North Korean officials, including Kim Yong Chol, a major negotiator, and Ri Yong Ho, North Korea's state-run KCNA news agency said.

In this Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, photo provided on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019 by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walks with his wife Ri Sol Ju at Pyongyang Station in Pyongyang, North Korea, before leaving for China. It's Kim's fourth visit to China in a year.

It is noted that Kim's fourth visit occurs as China is negotiating trade with the USA in Beijing.

The visit by Kim suggests that he is seeking Xi's advice or highlighting his country's alliance with China as he prepares for another meeting with Trump.

It is his fourth visit to China in less than a year. While China's foreign ministry claims that this is just a coincidence, some analysts see it as a clear warning to the U.S. that Kim has other options.

China, which is North Korea's most important ally, has been providing a lifeline to the isolated nation amid tough United Nations sanctions that have crippled its economy.

In a New Year's speech, Kim warned Washington the country might be forced to take an alternative path if the U.S.

Kim's trip comes as the US and North Korea look to settle the North's decades-long pursuit of a nuclear arsenal.

Culminating in late 2017, Pyongyang carried out six nuclear tests and launched rockets capable of reaching the entire U.S. mainland, but has now carried out no such tests for more than a year.

USA diplomats in Beijing have been seriously monitoring interactions between China and North Korea, a source familiar with the matter told Kyodo News.

"We especially hope that the exchange between China and North Korea this time will be a stepping stone for the second North Korea-U.S. summit", Kim said.

South Korea's spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, also reportedly told lawmakers in a closed-door briefing that the two leaders may discuss a peace treaty to replace the Korean War armistice.

South Korea's Blue House on Tuesday confirmed that it has been notified by both North Korea and China ahead of the Kim's Beijing visit and has been "sharing information with both countries".

Still, the North Korean leader is already refraining from putting all of his eggs in one basket, deftly appealing to outside powers in his New Year's speech by noting that, despite the stalled talks with the USA, he is willing to meet Trump again at any time to produce results "welcomed by the global community".

Washington is demanding Pyongyang give up its nuclear arsenal before any relief from economic sanctions is granted, while the North is insisting on immediate concessions from the US.

"China has always supported both sides to continue to hold talks and to reach a positive outcome", Lu said.

Kim's visit comes as a USA delegation opened a second day of talks with Chinese counterparts in Beijing aimed at ending the trade war between the world's two largest economies.

Washington and Pyongyang seemed close to war at points during 2017, as the North staged a series of increasingly powerful weapons tests that got it tantalisingly close to its nuclear goal of one day targeting with pinpoint accuracy anywhere on the U.S. mainland.

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

The US president said last week he had received a "great letter" from the North Korean leader but declined to reveal its contents. "China has actually been a good partner in our efforts to reduce the risk to the world from North Korea's nuclear capability".

Ties between China and North Korea, which had frayed as Pyongyang stepped up its provocations through a series of missile and nuclear tests, warmed over the past year as Kim engaged with Beijing as well as Seoul and Washington.

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