Kim gives Xi a rare Kumsusan Palace welcome

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Kim gives Xi a rare Kumsusan Palace welcome


Chinese President Xi Jinping’s plane is greeted at a welcome ceremony at Pyongyang Sunan International Airport on Thursday, as Xi flew in to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for a summit. [AP/YONHAP]


Chinese President Xi Jinping and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un wave to the crowds as they ride an open-top vehicle to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in Pyongyang on Thursday. [XINHUA/YONHAP]

Chinese President Xi Jinping kicked off his first state visit to Pyongyang on Thursday as the world’s powers try to revive stalled North Korea denuclearization negotiations.

Xi received a grand welcome ahead of his fifth summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Xi and his entourage landed in Pyongyang at around 11:40 a.m., reported Chinese state media, after departing from Beijing by private jet for the two-day trip earlier that morning.

The young North Korean leader and his wife Ri Sol-ju, as well as younger sister and closest aide Kim Yo-jong, greeted Xi and Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan at Pyongyang Sunan International Airport. As befitting a state visit, they received a 21-gun salute and a performance by a North Korean military band.

The Chinese delegation, according to Xinhua News Agency, included Foreign Minister Wang Yi; Yang Jiechi, director of the Chinese Communist Party’s Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission; Ding Xuexiang, director of the General Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and a key economic adviser; and He Lifeng, head of the National Development and Reform Commission, who presumably came to discuss economic cooperation projects with the North.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho and other senior Pyongyang officials took part in the welcoming ceremony including notably Kim Yong-chol, Ri Yong-soo and Pak Pong-ju, vice chairmen of the ruling Workers’ Party.

Kim and Xi, in an open-top armored vehicle, were greeted by thousands of cheering North Koreans waving the two countries’ flags as the motorcade headed to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, reported Chinese state television. This was the first visit by China’s head of state in 14 years following Chinese President Hu Jintao visit to Pyongyang in October 2005.

Xi was the first foreign leader to receive a welcome ceremony at the Kumsusan Palace, a mausoleum in Pyongyang honoring former leaders Kim Jong-il and Kim Il Sung.

Xi last visited North Korea 11 years ago in June 2008 as China’s vice president. This marked the fifth trip of a Chinese president since the two countries established diplomatic ties in 1949. Kim and Xi held summit talks later that afternoon, reported Xinhua.

Along with the denuclearization issue, the two countries were expected to discuss strengthening traditional friendly ties and economic cooperation, though options may be constricted by global sanctions on the North. China may offer humanitarian aid to the North, currently suffering from food shortages.

The two leaders were expected to attend a dinner banquet and watch a mass gymnastics performance at the May Day Stadium in Pyongyang.

Xi was also expected to visit the Sino-North Korean Friendship Tower in Pyongyang, which honors Chinese soldiers who died in the 1950-53 Korean War. The two leaders were expected to hold a luncheon meeting today.

North Korean media Thursday morning highlighted Xi’s state visit but did not report throughout the day real-time like Chinese state media. In a rare op-ed carried on the front page of the North’s official Rodong Sinmun Wednesday, Xi expressed support for negotiations and dialogue to resolve issues on the Korean Peninsula.

The two countries mark the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties this year.

Kim and Xi have previously held four summits, all in China. Their first took place in March 2018 as Kim emerged from his diplomatic isolationism and made a surprise trip to China via train, ahead of the first inter-Korean summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in the following month. Xi and Kim last met in Beijing in January.

China is North Korea’s longtime backer and largest trade partner.

Xi’s visit to Pyongyang comes ahead of a G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, where the Chinese leader is expected to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Thus, there is interest to see if Xi will play a role in leading Kim back to dialogue with the United States - or possibly use Chinese diplomacy with North Korea as leverage in the ongoing trade war with the United States.

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