President Xi Jinping arrived in Pyongyang on Thursday on a historic trip to reboot a troubled alliance, as he and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un face their own challenges with US President Donald Trump.
Xi is the first Chinese president to visit North Korea in 14 years, after relations between the Cold War era allies deteriorated over Pyongyang’s nuclear provocations and Beijing’s subsequent backing of UN sanctions.
Xi and Kim have been working to repair ties, with the young North Korean leader visiting his older ally four times in China in the past year and Beijing calling for sanctions to be relaxed.
But the Chinese leader waited to reciprocate the visit, biding his time to see how nuclear talks between Kim and Trump would play out before deciding to travel to Pyongyang, according to analysts.
Xi, who will pay a two-day state visit, arrived in North Korea late Thursday morning, China’s CCTV said. He is visiting with his wife Peng Liyuan, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and other officials, according to Chinese state media.
In Pyongyang, Chinese flags hung throughout the city and residents were lined the streets to welcome Xi.
The Rodong Sinmun newspaper, the mouthpiece of the ruling party, devoted the top half of its front page to Xi’s visit, with a colour picture of him accompanying a profile. In an editorial, it said his trip will “engrave a new, enduring page in the history of DPRK-China friendship”.
“The visit to our country that comes despite the emergence of urgent and important tasks due to complex international relations clearly shows that the Chinese party and government are putting high importance on the DPRK-China friendship,” it went on.
“Our people are proud of having a trustworthy and close friend like the Chinese people.”
Authorities have imposed tight control on coverage of the visit. International journalists in Pyongyang were told they would not be able to cover it, while foreign media organisations that were initially invited to attend were unable to obtain visas.
The visit will be largely symbolic, with no formal joint communique expected — as was the case with Kim’s April summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok, Russia.
Analysts say the trip is a chance for China to showcase its influence in the region.
Negotiations between Trump and Kim soured after a second summit in February broke up without a deal, with the two men failing to agree on what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in exchange for sanctions relief.
China sees the North as a strategic buffer from South Korea, keeping the 28,500 US troops in South Korea far from its borders, and Xi’s trip will include a visit to pay homage at Pyongyang’s Friendship Tower, a monument to the Chinese troops who saved the North from defeat during the Korean War.