Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un have held talks at the start of the Chinese president’s trip to North Korea, rebooting a troubled alliance as the pair face their own challenges from Donald Trump.
Xi’s two-day visit is the first by a Chinese leader to 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.
China’s Xinhua news agency said the leaders held their first round of talks soon after Xi landed in Pyongyang with his wife, Peng Liyuan, the foreign minister, Wang Yi, and other officials.
Xinhua did not provide details, but North Korea’s nuclear programme is expected to top the agenda, months after Kim’s second denuclearisation summit with Trump ended in failure.
Reports said 10,000 people waving flowers and chanting slogans greeted Xi at Pyongyang’s airport, where he was met by Kim and his wife, Ri Sol-ju. Chinese media footage showed hundreds of people lining the streets as Xi was driven to the city centre.
In an unprecedented move for a visiting leader, Xi was shown around the Kumsusan Palace mausoleum, where the preserved bodies of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung, and his successor, Kim Jong-il – the grandfather and father respectively of the current leader – lie in state.
The Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of North Korea’s ruling party, devoted the top half of its front page to the summit, including a colour photograph and a profile of the Chinese leader.
It said the visit came at a time of “complex international relations” and proved that Beijing attached “high importance” to its ties with North Korea. “Our people are proud of having a trustworthy and close friend like the Chinese people,” it said.
Xi is expected to pay homage at Pyongyang’s Friendship Tower, a monument to the Chinese troops who saved North Korea from defeat during the Korean war.
Analysts expect Xi to use his state visit, arranged to coincide with the 70th anniversary of China-North Korea ties, to demonstrate Beijing’s influence in the region amid uncertainty over the future of Trump’s efforts to strike a deal with Kim on nuclear weapons.
“For North Korea, the coming meeting will serve to show the US that China has its back and to send a message to Washington it should stop its maximum-pressure posture,” said Lim Eul-chul, a professor of North Korean studies at Kyungnam University.
The summit is also designed to strengthen ties between the two neighbours after years of friction over Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear programmes. Xi and Kim were expected to discuss economic ties and aid. There were reports that China may send hundreds of thousands of tons of rice to drought-stricken North Korea after the visit.
| Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping at their meeting in Beijing, China, in 2018. Photograph: AP