Chinese President Xi Jinping told North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Thursday that he hopes North Korea and the United States can keep talking and make progress, Chinese state media reported after the two men met in Pyongyang.
The friendship between China and North Korea will not be shaken by changes in the international situation, Xi said, adding that China wanted to play a constructive role in the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula
While Kim said North Korea is waiting for a desired response in the stalled nuclear talks with the U.S.
"North Korea would like to remain patient, but it hopes the relevant party will meet halfway with North Korea to explore resolution plans that accommodate each other's reasonable concerns," he said, according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.
Xi's two-day trip to North Korea, the first by a Chinese president in 14 years, raises the possibility that China could help break a monthslong impasse in talks between the U.S. and North Korea over the North's nuclear weapons.
Describing the issue as "highly complex and sensitive," Xi said the international community expects the U.S. and North Korea to continue to talk and achieve results.
The summit comes as both Xi and Kim are locked in separate disputes with the United States — Xi over trade and Kim over his nuclear weapons.
With the Chinese leader due to meet President Donald Trump next week in Japan, analysts say Kim may ask Xi to pass on a message that could revive the talks with the U.S.
Xi's state visit to North Korea, announced just three days ago, began with the synchronized pomp of all major events in the country.
He, his wife Peng Liyuan and senior Chinese officials were greeted with a 21-gun salute and about 10,000 cheering people at an arrival ceremony at Pyongyang's airport.
CCTV showed Xi and his wife waving to the crowd after emerging from the Air China plane, then being greeted by Kim and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, receiving flowers and watching goose-stepping troops march by.
The crowd stood in tight formations, waving flowers and chanting slogans to welcome Xi. Others lined the roads and cheered from overpasses as Xi's motorcade traveled to central Pyongyang, where he joined Kim in an open-top vehicle.
Standing in the car, they waved to crowds as they rode to the square where the embalmed bodies of Kim's grandfather and father, the first two leaders of North Korea, lie in state.
As of Thursday evening, North Korean media had yet to report on Xi's arrival.
Nuclear talks between the U.S. and North Korea broke down after a summit between Kim and Trump in February in Vietnam ended in failure.
The U.S. is demanding that North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons development before international sanctions are lifted. North Korea is seeking a step-by-step approach in which moves toward denuclearization are matched by concessions from the U.S., notably a relaxation of economic sanctions.
Experts say Xi will likely endorse North Korea's calls for an incremental disarmament process.
A commentary in China's official Xinhua news agency said China could play a unique and constructive role in breaking the cycle of mistrust between North Korea and the U.S. It said both sides "need to have reasonable expectations and refrain from imposing unilateral and unrealistic demands."
A former North Korean diplomat who defected in 2016 said he thinks Kim wants to give Xi a message to deliver to Trump when the two meet at the upcoming G-20 summit in Japan.
Thae Yong Ho said Kim may offer to abandon some of his nuclear facilities in a bid to set up a third summit with the U.S. president. But he cautioned that such a move would only be to buy time and not to denuclearize fully, as the U.S. is demanding.
"The main purpose for the Kim Jong Un regime in negotiating is to keep North Korea as a new nuclear state in this region, there is no doubt about that," he said at a news conference in Tokyo, where he is promoting the Japanese translation of his book, "Password From the Third Floor," an inside look at North Korean diplomacy and the Kim regime.
Kim has met Xi four times in China as talks with both the U.S. and South Korea got underway starting last year.
China is North Korea's most important foreign partner, though their relations grew somewhat rocky as Kim's efforts to build his country's nuclear weapons capabilities threatened regional stability.
A banner at the airport welcome ceremony read, "Long Live with Unbreakable Friendship and Unity Formed by Blood."
The nations fought together in the 1950-53 Korean War against the United States, South Korea and their allies. China welcomed Kim's announcement last year that he was shifting the country's focus from nuclear weapons to economic development.