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N. Korea's reclusive leader makes surprise diplomatic debut

All Headlines 15:36 March 28, 2018

SEOUL, March 28 (Yonhap) -- With his visit to China, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made a surprise diplomatic debut, ending nearly six years of seclusion from the international scene.

North Korea and China's state media on Wednesday announced that Kim made a four-day "unofficial" visit and had a summit with President Xi Jinping.

It was the reclusive leader's first known trip outside of North Korea since taking power in late 2011. It came ahead of his planned summits with the leaders of South Korea and the United States, to be held in April and May, respectively.

All the three summits are known to have been offered first by Kim, who has appeared increasingly more assertive since he declared that North Korea had completed progress toward becoming a nuclear power state late last year after its sixth nuclear test and a barrage of missile tests.

Kim was accompanied by his wife Ri Sol-ju, a break with his predecessors' practice of going on foreign trips without their spouses.

The trip came as North Korea-China relationship has soured over Pyongyang's defiant nuclear and missile tests and Beijing's participation in international sanctions against Pyongyang.

Analysts here said Kim chose to visit China to secure its backing ahead of what would be difficult negotiations with Washington over denuclearization.

"North Korea needed China's help ahead of its planned summits with the South Korean and U.S. leaders while China wanted to exert its influence on the North," said Moon Sung-muk of the Korea Research Institute for Strategy.

In the same vein, Kim may also want to have a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho reportedly plans to visit Moscow next month.

China's security guarantee may also be a reason for Kim to reach out to China. Trump's recent appointment of John Bolton, a security hawk, as his chief security adviser, raised the fear of a potential military strike in case the planned Kim-Trump summit ends without results, according to experts.

"Kim may have reiterated the importance of guaranteeing the security of his regime against the U.S.' policy of threats," Prof. Kang Jun-young of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies said.

pbr@yna.co.kr
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