For the first time in 14 years, a Chinese president will visit North Korea again. President Xi Jinping arrived in Pyongyang on Thursday for a two-day state visit.
The visit to mark the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations in the region raises hopes that new impetus will be given to the stalled negotiations on the North Korean nuclear weapons program. The Chinese president’s trip is also taking place shortly before the G20 summit in Japan later this month, where a direct meeting of Xi with US President Donald Trump is planned.
Xi’s visit highlights the improvement in bilateral relations between China and North Korea. Historically, the two communist states are considered friends. However, the first years after Kim came to power in North Korea at the end of 2011 were marked by a noticeable cooling of the relationship. With his nuclear and missile tests Pyongyang also angered Beijing more and more, which wants to prevent an incalculable conflict or a war in his neighborhood. China is North Korea’s main trading partner and is considered a lifeline for the country.
Everywhere in Pyongyang, Chinese flags are blowing.
Washington accuses Pyongyang of having exceeded the United Nations’ 2019 deadline. Moscow and Beijing demanded more time to review the motion, which was supported by 25 states, including Japan, France and Germany.
Xi is traveling with his wife Peng Liyuan and a delegation of high-ranking Communist Party officials and government officials, including Foreign Minister Wang Yi, according to Chinese media reports.
The state visit again shows the changed status of the North Korean ruler on the world stage. Apart from Xi, Kim has met with US and Russian presidents, among others, since last year. In particular, the first of the two summit meetings with Trump in June 2018 was considered a diplomatic victory Kim, because he negotiated on equal terms with the US President.
Kim visits China four times
In order to show close proximity to Beijing in the nuclear dispute, Kim had previously visited the Chinese president several times in China. Since March 2018, when Kim made his official state visit for the first time, he has met Xi Jinping four times in China.
According to observers, Kim once again needs Beijing’s backing in the difficult negotiations with the US over the North Korean nuclear weapons program. Xi’s visit to Pyongyang takes place at a critical time. The US and South Korea are trying to bring the isolated leadership in Pyongyang back to the negotiating table.
The visit, however, is likely to be symbolic in nature. A joint statement to conclude the talks is not expected. The media coverage of Xi’s state visit is severely limited: Foreign journalists in Pyongyang have been told they can not report on the visit. Journalists from foreign media who had been invited initially did not receive a visa.
China flags and excited residents
China flags were hanging on Pyongyang on Thursday. Residents stood on the streets to greet the Chinese president.
Xi encouraged Kim one day before his visit in a guest post for the official North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun. China supports North Korea’s “right direction” to politically solve the problems on the Korean Peninsula, Xi wrote. In the article, he emphasized, to a large extent, the friendly relations between the two countries and announced that he would do more to ensure that the negotiations on the problems progressed. However, Xi did not mention the Chinese sanctions against North Korea.
Kim’s second summit meeting with Trump failed in late February in Vietnam. Both could not agree on the central issue of nuclear disarmament in North Korea. Since then, the talks are deadlocked. Kim later made the condition that the US submit new solutions by the end of the year. Most recently, North Korea had again tested rockets.
Xi would, according to observers strengthened after a successful visit to North Korea in the upcoming meeting with Trump go. The two heads of state want to speak at the end of June on the sidelines of the G-20 summit on the ongoing trade conflict of the two largest economies. But North Korea should also be a topic. If China makes progress in nuclear negotiations, it would be “a positive signal to the US,” believes Cheng Xiaohe, a professor of international relations at the Beijing People’s University.
There is currently speculation in South Korea that Kim and Trump could soon meet again for a summit meeting. Trump had said last week that he had received another “nice letter” from Kim. Asked about another possible personal meeting with Kim, he said it could happen. He did not become more specific. Trump will travel to South Korea after the G20 summit.