China confirms North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited Beijing

SHANGHAI/SEOUL, March 28 (Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited China from Sunday to Wednesday on an unofficial visit, China's state news agency Xinhua reported on Wednesday.

The visit was Kim's first known journey abroad since he assumed power in 2011 and is believed by analysts to serve as preparation for upcoming summits with South Korea and the United States.

Beijing has traditionally been the closest ally of secretive and isolated North Korea, but ties have been frayed by North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons and China's backing of tough U.N. sanctions in response.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping meeting
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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping meeting
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping, as he paid an unofficial visit to China, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang March 28,2018. KCNA/via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping as he paid an unofficial visit to Beijing, China, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang March 28, 2018. KCNA/via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and wife Ri Sol Ju, and Chinese President Xi Jinping and wife Peng Liyuan pose for a photo in Beijing, China, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang March 28, 2018. KCNA/via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and wife Ri Sol Ju, and Chinese President Xi Jinping and wife Peng Liyuan meet in Beijing, China, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang March 28, 2018. KCNA/via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and wife Ri Sol Ju, and Chinese President Xi Jinping and wife Peng Liyuan toast each other, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang March 28, 2018. KCNA/via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and wife Ri Sol Ju, and Chinese President Xi Jinping and wife Peng Liyuan meet, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang March 28, 2018. KCNA/via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and wife Ri Sol Ju, and Chinese President Xi Jinping and wife Peng Liyuan attend a banquet in Beijing, China, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang March 28, 2018. KCNA/via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, as he paid an unofficial visit to China, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang March 28, 2018. KCNA/via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
A man walks past a TV broadcasting a news report on a meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, in Seoul, South Korea, March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
A man walks past a TV broadcasting a news report on a meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, in Seoul, South Korea, March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
People watch a TV broadcasting a news report on a meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, in Seoul, South Korea, March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un smiles during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (unseen), as he paid an unofficial visit to China, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang March 28, 2018. KCNA/via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping, as he paid an unofficial visit to China, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang March 28, 2018. KCNA/via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
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Xinhua published a photograph of Kim and Xi shaking hands in front of the flags of the two nations.

Speculation about a possible visit by Kim to Beijing was rife earlier this week after a train similar to the one used by Kim's father was seen in the Chinese capital, along with heavy security and a large motorcade.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that Kim visited China from Sunday to Wednesday with his wife, Ri Sol Ju. It cited North Korea without elaborating.

Xi had accepted an invitation from Kim to visit North Korea, Yonhap said.

Improving ties between North Korea and China would be a positive sign before planned summits involving the two Koreas and the United States, a senior South Korean official said on Tuesday.

Kim Jong Un's father, Kim Jong Il, met then-president Jiang Zemin in China in 2000 before a summit between the two Koreas in June that year. That visit was seen at the time as reaffirmation of close ties with Beijing. (Reporting by David Stanway in SHANGHAI and Joyce Lee in SEOUL Writing by Lincoln Feast Editing by Paul Tait)

18 PHOTOS
North Koreans show devotion for leader Kim Jong Un
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North Koreans show devotion for leader Kim Jong Un
People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
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