Kim Jong-un has travelled to China for a fourth round of talks with Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, North Korea’s state media reported on Tuesday.
The confirmation came after media speculation that a special train carrying a high-ranking North Korean official crossed the border into China via the city of Dandong late on Monday night.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency later reported that Mr Kim had arrived with his wife Ri Sol Ju and top officials at Mr Xi’s invitation.
The two leaders met three times last year and Tuesday’s face-to-face talks precede a second proposed summit between Kim and Donald Trump, the US president.
Kim’s visit could signal that he is seeking Mr Xi’s views on the summit or reminding the US of North Korea’s historically strong ties with China. The North Korean leader consulted closely with Mr Xi beforeand after his unprecedented summit with Mr Trump in Singapore in June.
In Singapore, the US and North Korea agreed to work towards the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula but did not specify how to do so. Talks between the two sides have now stalled over a disagreement about the meaning of denuclearisation.
Kim would be expected to raise the thorny issue of harsh US-led sanctions against his regime when he meets with Mr Xi on Tuesday.
Earlier on Monday the South Korean newspaper Munhwa Ilbo reported that U.S. State Department officials recently met multiple times with North Korean counterparts in Hanoi and discussed planning a second summit between Mr Trump and Mr Kim, fuelling speculation that Vietnam could host the event.
The US State Department and White House declined to comment on the Munhwa Ilbo report and the State Department referred queries about Mr Kim’s reported China visit to the Chinese government.
In an interview with CNBC, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised China’s support for resolving the North Korean crisis and said he did not think the US trade dispute with Beijing would affect this.
“The Chinese have been very clear to us that these are separate issues,” Mr Pompeo said.
“Their behaviour has demonstrated that as well and we appreciate that. China has actually been a good partner in our efforts to reduce the risk to the world from North Korea’s nuclear capability; I expect they will continue to do so.”
China is North Korea’s most important economic and diplomatic backer, despite anger over its neighbour’s nuclear and missile programmes. Ties have warmed in the last year as Pyongyang’s relations with both Seoul and Washington have also improved.
Diplomatic sources say Mr Xi will probably go to North Korea at some point soon, which would make him the first Chinese leader to do so since 2005.
In early December, Mr Xi told North Korea’s foreign minister during a visit in Beijing that he “hoped North Korea and the United States meet each other halfway and address each other’s reasonable concerns, allowing positive progress on the peninsula’s nuclear talks.”