BEIJING –Chinese leader Xi Jinping arrived in North Korea on June 20 as Beijing looks to bolster its neighbor, hit by U.N. sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs, a week before Xi and U.S. President Donald Trump meet amid a trade dispute.
Xi, whose entourage includes the head of China’s state economic planner, will be in reclusive North Korea for two days, becoming the first Chinese leader to visit in 14 years, and could bring fresh support measures for its floundering, sanctions-bound economy.
— The Straits Times (@STcom) June 20, 2019
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, greeted Xi at the airport, Chinese state TV said. Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, and officials who played prominent roles in recent nuclear talks with the United States were also on hand.
China is the North’s only major ally and the visit comes amid renewed tension on the Korean peninsula as the United States seeks to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.
The trip is also an assertion of a key leverage point that China has in its deteriorating relationship with the United States, diplomats say.
“Comrade Xi Jinping is visiting…in the face of crucial and grave tasks due to complex international relations, which clearly shows the Chinese party and the government place high significance on the friendship,” the North’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said.
Xi will hold a summit with Kim, attend a welcoming banquet and watch a mass gymnastic performance on his first day, according to Chinese state media.
He is also expected to pay tribute at the Friendship Tower, which commemorates Chinese troops who fought together with North Koreans during the 1950-53 Korean War. The conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty, leaving the North technically still at war with South Korea.
Xi and Kim will meet just a week before a G20 summit in Osaka where Xi and Trump are due to meet in a bid to reset ties complicated by a bitter trade dispute.
Kim has visited Xi in China four times since last year, and China has praised North Korea and the United States for trying to resolve their issues through dialogue rather than threats of force or military posturing.
China has also defended its “normal” trade and business ties with North Korea.
With fuel imports limited and most major exports banned, the sanctions appear to be hurting the North’s economy.
State media say drought has hit North Korea, with international aid groups reporting food production dropping dramatically amid poor harvests.
By Ben Blanchard