North Korean leader Kim Jong Un left China on Wednesday after a two-day visit to his country's biggest ally—his third trip there since the start of the year, official media reported.
Kim met with Chinese President Xi Jinping for an "in-depth conversation over tea," state news agency Xinhua reported.
"We are pleased to see that ... the momentum for dialogue and easing of situation on the Korean peninsula has been effectively strengthened, and [North Korea's] new strategic route has pushed the [country]'s socialist cause into a new journey," it quoted Xi as saying after the talks.
Kim said the two countries are as close and friendly as family, and help each other, the agency said.
Kim concluded his China visit late on Wednesday and departed Beijing for North Korea, Xinhua said.
Hong Kong-based North Korea expert Chung Lok-wai said the visit was likely a case of Kim reporting back to Xi in the wake of the Singapore summit with U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this month.
"Kim Jong Un also traveled to [the northeastern Chinese city of] Dalian prior to the summit with the U.S., to meet with Xi Jinping," Chung said. "I think that both of these meetings before and after the summit took place were pre-arranged."
"I think Beijing played a role in the summit, even though it didn't take part," he said. "It's quite reasonable that Kim should want to debrief Kim in person after the summit, given the current state of relations with China."
U.S.-based political commentator Wang Juntao said the most likely motive behind Kim's Beijing trip was to secure economic backing from his country's chief ally, possibly because he is planning to take North Korea down a similar road towards economic reform as China took four decades ago.
"Generally speaking, when a small and fairly weak country holds a crucial bargaining chip in international relations, it stands to benefit from an antagonistic relationship between two superpowers," Wang said. "From North Korea's point of view, its top priority right now is the ending of economic sanctions, and also developing its economy."
"Developing its economy will mean North Korea will need aid and other assistance from China, and yet it still wants to guard against Chinese economic and political infiltration," he said.
Balance of power
Jiangxi University professor Quan Jialin said agreed.
"The balance of power is being held by a small, weaker country," Quan said, but added that the U.S. has every right to expect denuclearization in North Korea after its decision to call a temporary halt to U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises.
He said Kim is also likely to have discussed with Xi the politics of maintaining his grip on power while implementing his promises of denuclearization.
South Korean foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha said he hopes to hear soon about the outcome of Kim's most recent meeting with Xi.
"China is looking to play a crucial role here in matters relating to peace and security on the Korean peninsula," Kang said. "We also want to enter into dialogue with Beijing, because that will help us to achieve our common aim of long-term peace and denuclearization on the Korean peninsula."
Security remained tight around the visit, which wasn't announced beforehand.
A Beijing correspondent for Agence France-Presse (AFP) was stopped by the police as he was waiting for Kim's motorcade on the streets of Beijing on Tuesday.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Liu Shui for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.