Korean diplomatic envoy to Italy 'in hiding', says S. Korean spy agency

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The North Korean leader "is to visit China on January 7-10... at the invitation of Xi Jinping", the official Korean Central News Agency said Tuesday.

It comes amid reports of negotiations for a second summit between Mr Kim and US President Donald Trump.

North Korea's state media says leader Kim Jong Un has left for China.

The State Department and the USA embassy in Seoul did not immediately respond to a query from Reuters.

Acting North Korean Ambassador to Italy Jo Song-gil, who disappeared with his family last November, escaped to a third country but was discovered by Italian intelligence officials and taken back to Italy to be placed in protective custody, the Corriere della Sera reported Saturday.

But Japan's Kyodo news agency said hotel guests in Dandong had not been allowed to enter rooms facing the river that forms the border on Monday afternoon, in what sources described as "an apparent move to prevent the train from being seen".

Yonhap said the train was expected to reach Beijing at about 10 a.m. Tuesday local time.

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Trump earlier said that the United States and North Korea are in talks over where to hold their second summit, adding that the decision on the venue will be announced in the "not-too-distant future".

Trump, who held a historic summit with Kim in Singapore in June, said earlier in the week he had received a "great letter" from the North Korean leader but refused to divulge its contents.

This is Kim's fourth trip to China. The North Korean leader warned in a New Year's speech that Pyongyang may change its approach to nuclear talks if Washington persists with sanctions.

Kim's regime, however, has been bogged down by worldwide sanctions caused by past nuclear and missile tests. In that declaration, the two Korean leaders also committed to actively cooperate to establish a permanent and solid peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.

Some observers believe that while it is tempting to interpret this "new way" as being a thinly veiled threat of more nuclear or missile tests, it could instead be an implicit warning that the North could further bolster its already improving ties with China if the US fails to ante up.

"The defectors may not be as wealthy as South Koreans", Thae added.

In an interview with CNBC on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised China's support for resolving the North Korean crisis and said he did not think the U.S. trade dispute with Beijing would affect this.