Chinese President Xi Jinping and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un kicked off their fifth summit with a one-on-one meeting on Thursday afternoon, Chinese state media reported.
Details of the talks were limited, with Xinhua simply saying the two leaders had “held talks” in the DPRK capital.
The Chinese president landed in Pyongyang at 11:40 local time, accompanied by, among other officials, First Lady Peng Liyuan, key aide Ding Xuexiang, top diplomat Yang Jihi, foreign minister Wang Yi, and minister of the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission He Lifeng.
He was greeted at the airport by Kim Jong Un, according to Chinese ruling party organ the People’s Daily, as well as North Korean first lady Ri Sol Ju.
Also in attendance at the Sunan ceremony was member of the Politburo Presidium Pak Pong Ju, foreign minister Ri Yong Ho, vice premier Ri Ryong Nam, and senior diplomat Ri Su Yong, as well as vice-chairmen at the ruling party Central Committee Choe Hwi, Pak Kwang Ho, and Kim Yong Chol.
Also present were Ri Yong Gil and No Kwang Chol, senior officials from the DPRK military, as well as Kim Yo Jong, the North Korean leader’s sister and a powerful official in her own right, and over 10,000 Pyongyang citizens.
The two leaders reviewed a military guard procession and a 21-gun salute, the People’s Daily reported, before departing for Pyongyang.
Here’s a new footage of Xi Jinping’s arrival in Pyongyang this afternoon, via @CCTV.
N.Koreans welcome Xi Jinping, waving flowers and the national flags of DPRK and PRC, with banners saying “Welcome, Xi Jinping (欢迎习近平)”.
— NK NEWS (@nknewsorg) June 20, 2019
Upon arriving in the DPRK capital, Kim and Xi drove down the capital’s marquee Ryomyong Street in a convertible, followed by a ceremony at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun — the official mausoleum of Kim’s father and grandfather.
Chinese state media reported the event, also attended by thousands of locals, is the first time a foreign leader has “received a tribute” at that palace, “which fully reflects the enthusiasm and respect of the host.”
More high-ranking North Korean officials were present at that event, including, among others, State Affairs Commission first vice-chairman Choe Ryong Hae, and ruling party vice-chairmen Kim Phyong Hae and O Su Yong.
Following the event, Xi and the first lady were then reported to have traveled to the “Kumsusan Guest House” – a previously unknown name and different than the guesthouse where other heads of state and VIPs stayed in Pyongyang in the past year.
While much of their itinerary remains unknown, Chinese state media has confirmed that they will visit Pyongyang’s Sino-Korean Friendship Tower.
One expert also told NK News on Wednesday it would be “unusual” if Xi did not attend a performance of the DPRK’s “People’s Country” mass games, previously put on hold but set to restart in the coming days.
“Foreign leaders generally attend,” said Minyoung Lee, an analyst with NK News‘s sister service NK Pro, pointing to performances attended by South Korean President Moon Jae-in in September and Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel in November.
Hu Jintao, the last Chinese President to visit North Korea, also attended a performance alongside then-DPRK leader Kim Jong Il in 2005.
This week’s summit is the fifth between the two leaders, with Xi and Kim having met most recently in Beijing in January. Xi is also the first Chinese leader to visit North Korea in over ten years.
It also comes just a week ahead of the G20 meeting in Osaka, Japan, after which U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to travel to South Korea for a summit with President Moon Jae-in.
Details of what will be discussed during this week’s Pyongyang summit are thin, though President Xi earlier in the week did pen an op-ed for the DPRK party daily the Rodong Sinmun laying out his hopes to expand ties.
“This summit is probably going to be largely about the optics of unity, demonstrating that China and North Korea are aligned on nuclear diplomacy and sanctions relief,” Mintaro Oba, a former East Asia desk officer, told NK News. “Xi will probably want the summit to heighten an impression of China’s central role in Korean peninsula diplomacy and superior position relative to North Korea.”
“Kim, on the other hand, will likely want the trip to highlight that he has a range of diplomatic options and that he is in a strong position in the region, with Chinese backing for his approach to nuclear diplomacy as engagement,” he continued.
“Ultimately, I’m not sure we’ll see any major substantive news, but I think the show of China-North Korea coordination will most likely reinforce North Korea’s bargaining position versus the United States.”
Additional reporting by Colin Zwirko
Edited by James Fretwell
Featured image: KCNA