(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 14-19)
By Song Sang-ho
SEOUL, Jan. 10 (Yonhap) -- Cautious optimism is growing over a much-anticipated summit between Washington and Pyongyang, as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has formally secured support from Chinese President Xi Jinping for his plan to meet again with President Donald Trump, analysts said Thursday.
During his meeting with Kim in Beijing earlier this week, Xi threw his weight behind Pyongyang's "continued adherence to the direction of denuclearization" and backed North Korea and the U.S. "holding summits and achieving results," China's Xinhua News Agency reported.
Reaffirming his denuclearization commitment, Kim also said that he will make efforts to achieve results from the possible summit with Trump, which would be "welcomed by the international community," it added.
On Thursday morning, Kim completed his four-day visit to China, which analysts said was aimed at making sure that ties between the communist allies were close ahead of the summit with Trump expected to take place in the coming weeks or months.
Kim and Trump are apparently preparing for their second meeting in a bid to break an apparent deadlock in their negotiations over the North's nuclear disarmament for U.S. security guarantees and other support. Trump said publicly that the summit location will probably be announced "in the not-too-distant future."
Analysts said that Xi's backing for Pyongyang's steps toward denuclearization -- or its oblique pressure for progress on the issue -- and Kim's desire for fruitful outcomes from talks with Trump will create fresh momentum for peace efforts on the divided peninsula.
"The summit this time with Xi is an effort by Kim to reassure China that the North stands with its communist ally ahead of a possible major deal with the U.S., and an effort to ensure that it has China to fall back on (should talks with Washington fall apart)," Kim Heung-kyu, a China expert at Ajou University, told Yonhap News Agency.
"In a nutshell, Kim's visit to Beijing this time can be construed as his will to move toward a major step toward denuclearization," he added.
Kim has many reasons to push for a major deal with Washington this year, analysts said. Chief among them is his pledge to develop his country's threadbare economy, for which Pyongyang needs sanctions relief from Washington.
Kim's New Year speech focused on economic development, along with his desire for inter-Korean exchanges and olive branches to the United States that are required to address his country's pressing bread-and-butter issues.
Xi's rhetoric in support of the North's denuclearization appears to highlight the similarity of China's interests to those of the U.S. in promoting stability on the peninsula, particularly when it is negotiating a trade deal with the U.S.
Observers said that Xi might have tried to persuade Kim to make further tangible steps toward his country's nuclear disarmament given that, absent such steps, criticism could arise that Beijing has failed to deliver on its pledge to play a "constructive role" in peace efforts on the peninsula.
"There could be a considerable burden on the part of China if Pyongyang fails to make any significant step towards denuclearization," Park Won-gon, professor of international relations at Handong Global University, said.
During the latest trip to China, Kim invited Xi to visit Pyongyang, the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported, offering a glimpse into his plans for summit diplomacy this year.
Xi has "gladly" accepted the offer and notified the North of his schedule, it added without elaborating.
Kim's diplomatic drive this year is likely to focus on fostering conditions conducive to his peace rhetoric and strategic emphasis on economic development, observers said.
Should Xi visit the North, the summit agenda could include supplanting the armistice agreement that halted the 1950-53 Korean War with a peace treaty, which Pyongyang apparently believes will help ensure the security of its regime.
Kim has said that he would actively pursue multilateral negotiations over the peace treaty to "craft a foundation for an enduring peace."
For Xi, his visit to Pyongyang, if it materializes, may facilitate his efforts to maintain influence over the peninsula amid worries that a Washington-Pyongyang peace deal could cause the North to tilt away from Beijing.
After all, Kim's visit to Beijing this week underscored his sense of urgency before a summit with Trump.
Pyongyang has been under mounting U.S. pressure to make clear steps on denuclearization, such as a full declaration of its nuclear and missile programs. However, it wants Washington to take "corresponding measures," such as sanctions relief.
In his New Year's address, Kim said his regime may explore a "new path" should Washington stick to pressure and sanctions.
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