North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (centre left) and wife, Ri Sol-ju, (far left) with Chinese President Xi Jinping (centre right) and wife Peng Liyuan walk together during an unofficial visit to Beijing, China, March 28 2018. Picture: REUTERS
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (centre left) and wife, Ri Sol-ju, (far left) with Chinese President Xi Jinping (centre right) and wife Peng Liyuan walk together during an unofficial visit to Beijing, China, March 28 2018. Picture: REUTERS

Beijing — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was given a lavish welcome by Chinese President Xi Jinping during a secretive trip to Beijing as both sides try to repair frayed relations before Pyongyang’s landmark summits with Seoul and Washington.

US President Donald Trump welcomed the Beijing meeting and said there was now a "good chance" Kim would scrap his nuclear weapons, but warned that sanctions must stay in force in the meantime.

On his first trip abroad since taking power, Kim and his wife were greeted by an honour guard and a banquet hosted by Xi, according to state media, which confirmed the "unofficial" visit on Wednesday only after Kim had returned by train to North Korea.

The two men held talks at the stately Great Hall of the People, during which they hailed their nations’ historic relations, with Kim pledging he was "committed to denuclearisation" on the Korean peninsula, according to China’s Xinhua news agency.

Kim had also expressed willingness to hold the summits with Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, it said.

Trump tweeted that Xi had sent him a message on Tuesday to say his meeting with Kim "went very well and that KIM looks forward to his meeting with me".

"In the meantime, and unfortunately, maximum sanctions and pressure must be maintained at all cost!" he tweeted. Trump also said there was now "a good chance that Kim Jong Un will do what is right for his people and for humanity" and denuclearise.

Kim told Xi there was "no question that my first foreign visit would be to the Chinese capital", according to North Korea’s official KCNA news agency. "This is my solemn duty as someone who should value and continue the DPRK-PRC [North Korea-China] relations through generations."

KCNA said Xi had accepted an invitation to visit Pyongyang in what would be his first trip to the North Korean capital since he took power in 2012. The two men had not met since Kim took over after the death of his father, Kim Jong-Il, in December 2011.

Relations have been strained as China has backed a series of tough UN sanctions against Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile tests. But Xi underscored the importance of developing ties, saying it was "a strategic choice and the only right choice", according to Xinhua.

Analysts said Xi probably wanted to see Kim to ensure North Korea did not cut a deal with Trump that hurt Chinese interests during a summit set to be held in May.

AFP