North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in Beijing Tuesday for their first face-to-face talks since Kim's historic summit with US President Donald Trump in Singapore on June 12.
The two leaders held a bilateral meeting after a welcoming ceremony for the North Korean leader, which included a crowd of jubilant children jumping up and down and waving Chinese flags.
At their third meeting in as many months, Xi lavished praise on the younger man for his handling of the US meeting, according to Chinese state media CCTV.
Xi said he was very pleased both with the results of Kim's Singapore talks as well as North Korea's future goal of economic development.
According to state media, the two men agreed they wanted to further deepen the already-close ties between Pyongyang and Beijing in the months ahead.
After their talks, the two leaders then joined their wives for a banquet hosted in Kim's honor.
China's Foreign Ministry had announced Kim's visit to the Chinese capital earlier on Tuesday but hadn't provided any details of his schedule or when he would meet Xi.
Kim attempting to 'normalize' image
Analysts had been expecting Kim to visit China to brief Xi following the meeting with Trump, the first between a North Korean leader and serving US President.
Kim did not leave his country for the first six years of his rule, even to visit with China, North Korea's only real ally. But he made a surprise visit to Beijing in late March and to the northeastern city of Dalian in May.
Geng Shuang, a spokesperson with China's Foreign Ministry, confirmed the visit at a news conference Tuesday hours after it was announced on Chinese state media.
"We hope this visit will help further deepen bilateral ties, strengthen strategic communication on major issues between the two sides, and promote peace and stability in the region," Geng said.
It is rare for state media from either Beijing or Pyongyang to announce a trip by North Korea's leader ahead of time or as it is happening. Kim's other trips to China this year were revealed after the visits were completed.
By announcing the visit as it is happening, Kim is attempting to "'normalize' the way he is viewed by the international community," said Evans Revere, a senior director with the Albright Stonebridge Group and former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs at the State Department.
A police-escorted motorcade was spotted on Beijing's Chang'an Avenue, which runs past Tiananmen Square and near the Great Hall of the People.
It still hasn't been confirmed how Kim arrived in the country, whether by rail or by plane. On his March visit, Kim took his family's armored train to the Chinese capital. North Korean state media aired pictures of Kim inside the luxurious train car made famous by his father, who was reportedly afraid of flying.
Kim flew for his second meeting with Xi in Dalian.
China has largely supported the diplomatic d-tente between Washington and Pyongyang and even supplied Kim with an Air China plane for his journey to Singapore.
The June 12 meeting not only produced the history-making moment when Kim and Trump shook hands, but a written statement agreeing to "build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula" and "to work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
The statement represents a marked change from the saber rattling in 2017, when Trump and Kim traded insults and boasted about the size of their nuclear buttons. While some observers lauded their meeting as a step toward peace, others said the written agreement was too vague and noncommittal to be considered a foreign-policy victory for Washington.
In a long news conference after the talks, Trump announced the United States would suspend what he called "war games," a reference to joint US-South Korean military exercises, while negotiations were continuing. The Pentagon announced Monday that it was suspending planning for August joint military exercises with South Korea and several other allies in the region.
Trump also hinted that he eventually wants US troops on the Korean Peninsula to return home, but said "that's not part of the equation right now. I hope it will be eventually."
Those announcements appeared to be music to Beijing's ears, analysts said, as China has long sought a reduction in the US military presence so close to its border.
"China is almost certainly very pleased with the fact that the US and the ROK (Republic of Korea, South Korea's official name) have agreed to suspend major bilateral exercises, which has been a longstanding Chinese goal," said Revere.
"This visit may be China's way of saying 'thank you' to Kim Jong Un for getting President Trump to make this major concession."
Beijing had previously called for a "freeze-for-freeze" agreement whereby North Korea would halt its nuclear program in return for the US suspending military drills that Pyongyang has long considered practice for war. North Korea and the US initially rejected the proposal.
Revere and other experts expect that Xi and Kim will discuss the punishing sanctions levied on North Korea by the United Nations Security Council during 2017, a key part of Trump's "maximum pressure" policy to get North Korea to agree to put its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles on the negotiating table.
China hinted after the summit that sanctions could be adjusted, though the Trump administration has maintained they will remain in place until the nuclear issue is resolved.