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Trump urges pressure against North Korea after Kim's China trip

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China's President Xi Jinping (right) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (left) raising their glasses at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday.

Tokyo

US President Donald Trump called for continued pressure against Kim Jong Un, after China said the North Korean leader expressed an openness to disarmament talks during a surprise visit to Beijing.

Mr Trump struck an optimistic tone after the unexpected summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, saying in a pair of early morning tweets on Wednesday that Mr Kim might "do what is right for his people and for humanity" and give up his nuclear weapons. "In the meantime, and unfortunately, maximum sanctions and pressure must be maintained at all costs!" Mr Trump said.

Mr Trump's tweets followed Chinese and North Korean statements confirming Mr Kim's secretive four-day swing through China, his first foreign trip since taking power in 2011. China's official Xinhua News Agency said Mr Kim expressed an openness to discussing his weapons programme during a planned May summit with Mr Trump, while North Korean reports made no mention of denuclearisation.

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"North Korea sees an opportunity with these summits to message to the world that it's not isolated and that it has diplomatic options," Mintaro Oba, a former US State Department official who worked on North Korean issues, said by e-mail. "The Kim-Xi summit is the latest step in that game."

Mr Kim's clandestine visit - Chinese officials refused for two days to confirm reports of his motorcade and train movements - shakes up the diplomatic landscape ahead of the potential Trump meeting. Chinese media reports included Mr Kim's first public remarks indicating he would discuss his nuclear arsenal with Mr Trump, who has upended decades of US policy by agreeing to meet the North Korean leader without a clear disarmament plan.

"The issue of denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula can be resolved, if South Korea and the United States respond to our efforts with goodwill, create an atmosphere of peace and stability while taking progressive and synchronous measures for the realisation of peace," Mr Kim said, according to Xinhua.

The confirmation of Mr Kim's talks in Beijing helped reduce demand for haven assets, weakening the yen. The news had little impact on Asian equity markets, which fell after a selloff in technology shares spooked investors. Bloomberg News first reported Mr Kim's arrival in the Chinese capital.

Mr Kim also shored up his alliance with China, which has been strained since he came to power and executed his uncle, who was a key communications channel with Beijing. His missile and nuclear tests have exasperated China, which has supported Mr Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign against Mr Kim's weapons programme.

While Beijing remains a key ally of Pyongyang and an economic lifeline for the isolated regime, the two sides had drifted apart as China provided key votes for international sanctions. Their leaders hadn't met since Mr Kim's ailing father visited in 2011.

Mr Trump's summit decision risked sidelining China from the discussion, and may have acted as an impetus for the Kim-Xi meeting.

Mr Xi pledged support for "Comrade Chairman" Kim and North Korea's "peaceful development". He described the relationship between their predecessors as "the precious wealth of both sides" that must be sustained.

"This is a strategic choice and the only right choice both sides have made based on history and reality, the international and regional structure and the general situation of China-DPRK ties," Mr Xi said, referring to North Korea's formal name. "This should not and will not change because of any single event at a particular time." Mr Kim invited Mr Xi to visit North Korea "at a convenient time" and the invitation was accepted "with pleasure", the official Korean Central News Agency said.

The Beijing meeting comes amid a diplomatic flurry in Asia that has seen officials shuttling around various countries: Besides the potential summit with Mr Trump, Mr Kim's due to have talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in April. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has indicated that he would like to have a summit.

Mr Abe, who's expected to see Mr Trump in the US next month, told parliament in Tokyo on Wednesday that it was important to maintain sanctions on the regime while pursuing substantive talks. Mr Moon's spokesman Yoon Young-chan said Mr Kim's meeting with Mr Xi bodes well for the South Korean and US summits. BLOOMBERG