(Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could go to China on his first foreign trip since taking power, China’s ambassador to South Korea said on Wednesday, according to a report from South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
The 31-year-old leader assumed power after his father, Kim Jong Il, died suddenly in 2011. China is North Korea’s closest ally and main benefactor.
“I think that a visit from Kim Jong Un might materialize sometime in the future,” Chinese Ambassador Qiu Guohong was quoted by Yonhap as saying at a forum in Seoul.
“China and North Korea have maintained a normal relationship and there have been normal exchanges of visits between the leaders of both countries,” he said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has not yet visited the reclusive North but made a state visit to South Korea in July, a move widely reported at the time as a snub to North Korea by Beijing.
China has spearheaded diplomatic efforts to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program but has not been fully successful in exerting pressure after a series of U.N. sanctions imposed because of the North’s atomic and missile tests.
“I don’t think that should be closely tied to the question of whether China-North Korea relations are good or bad,” Qiu said, referring to the timing of Kim’s visit to China.
It is still not clear if Kim has fully consolidated his grip over the isolated country. His father, Kim Jong Il, waited six years while asserting his leadership at home before traveling to China for the first time.