Chinese cameras show a more humble Kim Jong-un as he meets Xi Jinping
North Korean leader seen taking notes and listening attentively during meeting
Kim Jong-un’s visit to Beijing this week gave the world a rare glimpse of the North Korean leader doing something he normally leaves to others – diligently taking notes while Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke during their meeting.
Back home, Kim is famous for surrounding himself with note-taking generals and senior officials during tours of the hermit state, as pictured in North Korean media, and in line with a tradition that officials should heed the “on the spot” guidance of the country’s supreme leader.
But this was Kim’s first overseas trip since he took power in 2011, and he was projecting a far more humble image, after engaging in a war of words with US President Donald Trump over the North’s nuclear weapons programme that saw him just six months ago call Trump a “dotard”.
In lengthy footage aired by state broadcaster China Central Television on Wednesday, Kim – whose age is unknown but is believed to be about 34 – is seen listening attentively, his head lowered, and taking notes as Xi tells him they should cherish the bilateral relations built by the two nations’ forefathers.
At least 30 years Kim’s senior, Xi sits on the other side of the conference table, smiling and sometimes nodding as Kim carefully reads from a script in front of him when it is his turn to speak.
Kim told Xi that it was his duty to congratulate the Chinese president in person on last week’s confirmation of his second term in power, according to a dispatch from official news agency Xinhua that shed light on the otherwise mysterious first meeting of two of the world’s most watched leaders.
“He [Kim] said it was his obligation to come to congratulate Xi in person, in line with the [North Korea]-China friendly tradition,” Xinhua reported.
In a major political victory for Xi, the annual legislative session that closed last week saw lawmakers remove the limit on his term as president, enshrine his theory in the constitution, and put his allies in key positions.
Kim, wearing a dour Mao suit and glasses, is seen unsmiling as he stands side by side with Xi during a reception ceremony, in rare footage captured on foreign cameras rather than by his own propaganda machine.
But his diplomatic skills will be put the test when Kim – who has threatened the world with continued missile and nuclear tests – meets South Korean President Moon Jae-in in April, followed by talks with Trump in May.
During his meeting with Xi on Monday night, the Chinese president reminded Kim of the “precious wealth” of bilateral relations that had been “meticulously cultivated” by the two nations’ previous leaders, but it was unclear whether he mentioned Kim’s father and grandfather by name.
Xi was flanked by top aides including Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Huning, Politburo member Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Xi’s trusted ally, Vice-President Wang Qishan, also attended the banquet with Kim that followed the meeting.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency described the meeting as “candid” and said Kim thanked Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan for receiving him like a “blood brother”.
According to one analyst, Kim appeared deferential partly because Xi has consolidated his power – he is now considered China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong – and partly in preparation for the high-stakes meeting with Trump.
“North Korea, whether it likes it or not, has to take a knee to China, and to communicate to China that it respects China and it needs China ... it cannot do it alone without Chinese support, so this is a very humbling moment for North Korea in a sense,” said Graham Ong-Webb, research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
Additional reporting by Sarah Zheng