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Xi Jinping’s plane lands in Pyongyang as he begins his first visit to North Korea as Chinese president. Photo: Weibo

Xi Jinping lands in North Korea for first visit by a Chinese leader in 14 years

  • President is joined by wife Peng Liyuan, foreign minister Wang Yi, top diplomat Yang Jiechi and development chief He Lifeng
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong-un greets Xi and the pair reportedly hold talks that are expected to cover denuclearisation
North Korea

Chinese President Xi Jinping landed in North Korea on Thursday, kicking off the first visit to the reclusive state by a Chinese leader in 14 years.

Xi’s maiden trip to Pyongyang as president comes a week before he is due to meet US President Donald Trump for talks on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Japan.

Xi was accompanied by his wife Peng Liyuan, as well as Wang Yi, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat.

He Lifeng, head of the National Development and Reform Commission, is also part of the Chinese delegation, signalling that economic cooperation could be on the agenda.

5 things to look out for when Xi Jinping visits North Korea

The Chinese president was greeted by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at Pyongyang Sunan International Airport. Kim was accompanied by Pak Pong-ju, a key economic adviser to Kim, and Pyongyang’s top diplomat Ri Yong-ho.

North Korean officials held a welcoming ceremony at the airport. A military band played the national anthems of both countries, and Xi and Kim reviewed the honour guards of the North Korean Army.

Nearly 10,000 North Koreans, some in traditional dress, were at the airport for Xi’s arrival, while approaching 100,000 lined the streets of the capital, according to People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of China’s Communist Party.

People waved flowers and held banners hailing the friendship between the two countries.

Xi and Kim then travelled together to Kumsusan Palace of the Sun.

They later held talks, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua. The pair were expected to discuss North Korean denuclearisation.

North Korean state media also welcomed the Chinese president’s visit, with newspaper Rodong Sinmun saying it would further strengthen “blood ties” between the two countries.

Xi Jinping pledges support for Kim Jong-un and North Korea

“Comrade Xi Jinping is visiting our country in the face of crucial and grave tasks due to complex international relations, which clearly shows that the Chinese party and the government place high significance on the friendship between the two countries,” it said.

“The friendship between North Korea and China is unbreakable.”

The two leaders are also likely to have a banquet, and Xi could watch a mass gymnastics performance, People’s Country, at the Rungrado May Day Stadium, the world’s largest.

Xi is expected to visit the DPRK-China Friendship Tower, near the Chinese embassy, during his stay in Pyongyang.

James Downes, a lecturer in comparative politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the two sides were likely to confirm common ground in their political ideologies during the summit.

“The advantage that China possesses over the US in allying with Kim is the similarity in political ideology,” Downes said.

“Kim eventually must side with one of the superpowers. As most autocratic leaders are fearful of the infiltration of democratic ideas, choosing the US – which has a track record of supporting insurgents in developing countries – is a highly implausible option for Kim.

Why there’s more than ideology to Xi’s visit to North Korea

“In short, the relationship between China and North Korea is likely to remain strong in the near future.”

This year marks the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and North Korea.

China and North Korea could formulate their own version of Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” strategy on North Korea, in their case targeting the US, according to Harry Kazianis, senior director of Korean studies at Washington think tank the Centre for the National Interest.

The Chinese president is greeted with a ceremony at Pyongyang airport. Photo: Weibo

“This week’s summit between Xi and Kim is surely the first step in solidifying such an approach,” he said. “The visit will be more about symbolism than actual substance, but with both nations feeling the heat from Washington – North Korea on denuclearisation and China on trade – Xi and Kim stand to benefit greatly if they align jointly against the Trump administration.

“Beijing is surely concerned that Xi’s G20 meeting with Trump next week may not go well, with Trump possibly imposing more tariffs on Beijing.

“China must be ready for such a threat and will need points of leverage to ensure Washington feels the pain. That could mean undoing Trump’s North Korea strategy of economic sanctions and international isolation by allowing the near free flow of goods between Pyongyang and Beijing.”