World

Kim Jong-un visits China as South Korea confirms August military drill is off

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un arrived in Beijing on Tuesday, where he will likely brief Chinese President Xi Jinping on his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump last week, as Washington and Seoul agreed to suspend a major joint military exercise.

China praises warming of ties between Washington and Pyongyang, as Kim gets big welcome in Beijing

In this image taken from a video footage run by China's CCTV on June 19, 2018, via AP Video, Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, stands next to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (CCTV via AP Video)

Chinese President Xi Jinping offered high praise to visiting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Tuesday, lauding the "positive" outcome of his historic summit earlier this month with U.S. President Donald Trump and promising unwavering friendship.

Meeting Kim on his third trip to China this year, and just a week after Kim met Trump in Singapore, Xi said China was willing to keep playing a positive role to promote the peace process on the Korean peninsula.

Kim's visit was the latest in a flurry of diplomatic contacts, and unlike during his previous two visits to China, the government announced his presence while he was in the country rather than waiting for him to leave.

Xi told Kim that he was very happy to see the "positive" outcome of his meeting with Trump and the important consensus reached on denuclearization and setting up a lasting peace mechanism, according to Chinese state television.

"No matter the changes in the international and regional situation, China's party and government's resolute position on being dedicated to consolidating and developing Sino-North Korea relations will not change," the report cited Xi as saying.

Chinese police officers gather after a motorcade including sedans, minibuses, motorcycles and a stretch limo with a golden emblem similar to one North Korean leader Kim Jong-un used previously was seen entering the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing. (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)

"The Chinese people's friendship for the North Korean people will not change, and China's support for socialist North Korea will not change," Xi added. Kim told Xi he hoped to work with China and other parties to push the peace process, Chinese state television said.

China eager to access North Korea markets

While not formally billed as a state visit, China gave Kim most of the trappings of one, including a welcome ceremony with honour guard in Beijing's Great Hall of the People.

Xi greeted Kim warmly, in images carried on state television. The two men were accompanied by their wives.

North Korean state media had not mentioned Kim's visit by early evening, but in general a Kim trip to China to discuss his summit with Trump had been widely anticipated in diplomatic circles. China is North Korea's most important diplomatic and economic backer but has been angered by its nuclear and missile tests.

A giant TV screen broadcasts the meeting of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Chinese President Xi Jinping during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Tuesday. (Andy Wong/Associated Press)

Xi said he was pleased to see North Korea's decision to promote economic reforms, adding that China's own reform and opening up process had meant the Chinese people's eyes had been open to the world. There was no mention of the escalating trade war between China and the U.S.

South Korea and the Pentagon officially announced over the past day they would halt the annual Freedom Guardian military drill scheduled for August.

"South Korea and the United States have agreed to suspend all planning activities regarding the Freedom Guardian military drill scheduled for August," according to a South Korean defence ministry statement.

A Pentagon statement confirmed the suspension, adding there would be a meeting between the secretaries of defence and state as well as Trump's national security adviser on the issue this week. Last year, 17,500 American and more than 50,000 South Korean troops participated in the Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills, although the exercise is mostly focused on computerized simulations rather than live field exercises that use weapons, tanks or aircraft.

Cost savings on drills unclear

The U.S.-South Korean exercise calendar hits a high point every spring with the Foal Eagle and Max Thunder drills, which both wrapped up last month.

Trump agreed to work with Kim toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. He referred to the drills as "war games" and called them provocative in Singapore, stunning some analysts by using language favoured by China and North Korea to describe them.

In this Aug. 24, 2016 file photo, South Korean army soldiers conduct an anti-terror drill as part of Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise, at the National Assembly in Seoul. The Pentagon on Monday formally suspended the major military exercise planned for August, a decision South Korea confirmed on Tuesday. (Ahn Young-joon/Associated Press)

The decision to halt military exercises in South Korea has bewildered many current and former U.S. defence officials, who only learned about it when Trump made his remarks after the Singapore meeting.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Tuesday there would be no changes to joint drill plans between the United States and Japan, both of which also engage in regular deterrence exercises against North Korea.

"The United States is in a position to keep its commitment to its allied nations' defence and our understanding is there is no change to the U.S. commitment to the Japan-U.S. alliance and the structure of American troops stationed in Japan," Suga said in a regular briefing.

The Pentagon has yet to publicly release the cost of previous and future joint military exercises with South Korea, a week after Trump cited their "tremendously expensive" cost as a reason for halting them.

Spending data for previous military exercises in Korea and elsewhere, however, suggest that the cost of a single exercise would be in the low or perhaps tens of millions of dollars in a U.S. military budget this year of nearly $700 billion US.

In response to repeated requests for cost data, Pentagon spokesperson Lt.-Col. Christopher Logan, said: "We are currently evaluating the costs of the exercises."

Calculating the cost of military exercises is a complicated process, often requiring data from different branches of the military and spread over several budgets over different years.

With files from CBC News

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