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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in the North Korean capital on Thursday morning, Chinese state media reported, where he is expected to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for the fifth summit between the two leaders.
Xi was reported to have departed Beijing around 0920 local time, accompanied by, among others, First Lady Peng Liyuan, key aide Ding Xuexiang, top diplomat Yang Jiechi, foreign minister Wang Yi, and minister of the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission He Lifeng.
His plane landed at 1140 Pyongyang time, according to a report from state-run CCTV.
The summit, announced ahead of time by both Chinese and North Korean media on Monday, marks the first visit by a PRC leader to the DPRK since 2005, and is expected to see the two sides reaffirm historic ties as well as agree to expand diplomatic and political cooperation.
It is also the fifth between the two leaders: Kim first met Xi in Beijing in March 2018, in his first summit with a foreign leader since taking power in 2011.
They met most recently in Beijing in January, ahead of Kim Jong Un’s fateful second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi the following month.
The scene at Pyongyang’s international airport as Xi Jinping’s Air China plane landed (full images) pic.twitter.com/FUBPC7c4qn
— Colin Zwirko (@ColinZwirko) June 20, 2019
Xi’s trip, notably, comes ahead of a meeting of the G20 in Osaka on June 28–29, after which Trump is expected to visit South Korea for a summit with the country’s President Moon Jae-in.
The Chinese President is set to depart Pyongyang on Friday.
Few details about the two leaders’ itinerary are public, though a visit to Pyongyang’s Sino-Korean Friendship Tower has been confirmed by the Chinese side.
One expert said he would be interested in whether the Chinese leader is given a tour of economic facilities while in the DPRK.
“That’s a standard feature when Kims go to China,” John Delury, a professor of Chinese history at Yonsei University, told NK News.
“On the one hand, it would sit with Xi Jinping’s backing Kim’s new strategy, then of course it can be seen as signaling against the sanctions regime,” he said, while stressing he believes it is unlikely the summit will see any major pledges from the North Korean side on the nuclear issue.
“Everyone’s watching the denuclearization issue. My speculation is Kim Jong Un will not give anything on that to Xi Jinping, why wouldn’t he give it to Trump, or even Moon?”
That said, Delury said Kim may make further symbolic pledges to denuclearize or the Chinese side may win a commitment from the North Koreans to a return to multilateral negotiations on the nuclear issues.
“Inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korea diplomacy makes Beijing uneasy about not being in the room,” he said.
Meanwhile, preparations in the North Korean capital for the upcoming summit are ongoing, with a tweet by British ambassador Colin Crooks earlier in the day showing Chinese flags placed in public areas and crowds gathering to greet the Chinese President.
A source earlier in the week told NK News that Pyongyang was already “crazy busy preparing for the Xi Jinping visit,” which he said had been an “open secret” for a few days prior to the announcement Monday.
These preparations, Tour Manager with Koryo Tours Gergo Vaczi said, included “roadworks from Sunan [International Airport] to Pyongyang, schoolchildren all the way weeding and painting the trees, the facades of the buildings being repainted, [and] the Friendship tower … under renovation.”
Chinese staff at the country’s embassy in the DPRK, he said, were seen headed to Pyongyang’s Sunan International Airport last Friday in order to fly home.
— Colin Crooks (@ColinCrooks1) June 19, 2019
Meanwhile, Air China notably used wide-body Airbus A330 aircraft on the Beijing-Pyongyang flight for three round-trips in the last week, in a further sign of preparations underway in advance for the high-profile visit.
North Korean media, too, has published extensive coverage on the upcoming visit.
In a rare contribution on Wednesday to ruling party organ the Rodong Sinmun and Minju Choson, the organ of the Cabinet and the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) Presidium, Xi said Beijing was willing to work with Pyongyang to achieve permanent stability in the region and step up high-level exchanges.
“The Chinese side is willing to draw up a grand plan… working with DPRK comrades to realize permanent peace in the region,” Xi wrote, hailing the fact that a “general trend for peace and dialogue has been established on the Korean peninsula.”
Repeating previous commitments, Xi said this week’s talks will serve as a chance to “give new content to the traditional DPRK-China friendship by strengthening strategic communication and exchanges and learning from each other.”
“We will be well-prepared for a blueprint for the development of China-DPRK relations based on the excellent tradition and humanitarian role of high-level exchanges,” Xi said, pledging to “strengthen the communication and coordination at various levels, deepen party-to-party exchanges, and exchange experiences of managing a country.”
North Korean media on Thursday, too, featured several articles on the upcoming summit, with the front page of party daily the Rodong Sinmun carrying a detailed biography of the Chinese President.
In an editorial, the party daily also said Xi’s visit would see “one indelible page be engraved in the DPRK-China history of friendship.”
Informing readers that the Chinese President would arrive in the North later in the day, the Rodong said Pyongyang was “excited with warm welcoming atmosphere” in anticipation of “receiving a valuable companion of a friendly neighboring country.”
“Comrade Xi Jinping’s visit to our country comes as pressing and significant tasks arise due to complicated international relations and clearly shows that the Chinese party and government places high importance on the DPRK-China friendship,” the article continued.
“[His trip] will also consolidate the blood ties between the peoples of the DPRK and China,” the party daily said, adding that it also “gives more impetus to the strengthening and development of their friendship.”
The Rodong explained that through his visit to Beijing in January, Kim Jong Un had sought to “demonstrate unity between the DPRK and China, which has been sublimate and developed into firm relations which are invulnerable to any kind of hardship.”
Through meetings this week, Beijing and Pyongyang can “further enhance political trust between the two parties and countries and make a groundbreaking milestone in more vigorously advancing the traditional friendship.”
“The DPRK-China relationship will be activated through cooperation and exchanges in various fields including mutual visits of the party and government’s delegation in recent times and exchanges of friendship art troupes.”
The editorial said the “firm determination” of the North Korean party, government, and people is to “value the friendship and continuously flower and develop it.”
Featured image: Rodong Sinmun