Beijing hosted concerts by North Korean musicians on Saturday and Sunday as a gesture of goodwill upon the visit of senior communist official Ri Su-yong to the Chinese capital, the latest diplomatic effort since dictator Kim Jong-un visited China this month.
Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping and wife Peng Liyuan attended one of the performances with Ri, which the South China Morning Post suggested featured the largest delegation of North Korean musicians to ever perform abroad – 280 people.
The Chinese state newspaper Global Times reported that Xi and Peng watched the show with Ri and considered the entertainment “an important cultural exchange activity for implementing the consensus reached by the two sides, as well as a significant event in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the establishment of China-DPRK diplomatic relationship.”
The event, the Post reported, featured Kim regime propaganda songs like “Forever the DPRK-China Friendship” and set pieces focused on the greatness of the alliance between the two communist nations. China banned reporting from inside the show, however, leaving public remarks from officials – both North Koreans and Communist Politburo ones – to the imagination outside of what Chinese state media chose to publish.
Xi used the opportunity to urge North Korea to regularly consider the guidance and opinion of China’s Communist Party when enacting policy. “China stands ready to work with the DPRK [North Korea] to implement the important consensus reached by the two sides, so as to better benefit the two peoples and contribute to world peace, stability, development and prosperity,” he reportedly said.
North Korea’s officials are reportedly preparing for a second meeting between Kim and American President Donald Trump, which this month American officials said both sides agreed would occur “at the end of February.” Kim Jong-un made China his first-ever international destination as dictator and visited Xi multiple times before first meeting Trump last June in Singapore.
This time, Kim appears similarly interested in keeping China involved in any negotiations with the United States. In early January, before Washington and Pyongyang announced a date range for the second summit between the two leaders, Kim spent his birthday in Beijing, where he attended a lavish dinner thrown on his behalf and discussed bilateral relations with Xi. Neither China nor North Korea revealed the details of the topics discussed, instead focusing on the harmony between the two nations and the expensive celebrations they both enjoyed.
Similarly, Chinese media did not reveal any details of what Xi discussed with Ri during the concerts this weekend. Xi only gave away that, during his meeting with Kim Jong-un, the two “had reached important consensus on the development of China-DPRK party-to-party and state-to-state relations in the new era during their four meetings since 2018.”
Xi also called for more “joint efforts in implementing the consensus on strengthening art and cultural exchanges and cooperation.”
North Korea’s state propaganda outlets have not reported on Ri’s meeting in China at press time. They often wait days to report any outside diplomatic news to the North Korean people, for whom it is illegal to possess or consume any media not generated by Kim’s regime.
North Korea rarely fails to indulge in acts of reverence to China when public appearances may indicate that Kim is comfortable setting his own foreign policy without Beijing, as the scheduling of another Trump summit may indicate. Kim sent one of his top diplomats, Kim Yong-chol, to Washington this month with a letter from Trump to confirm his will to meet again. On Monday, following reports of Ri’s visit to Beijing, the Global Times published an analysis piece insisting that it is necessary for China to play a main role in any negotiations with the United States.
“China’s role will be to provide a sense of security to North Korea in negotiations with the US, which could be an incentive for North Korea not to quit the process prematurely if it encounters setbacks,” the propaganda newspaper argued. “China has repeatedly expressed support for the North Korean pursuit of its legitimate security needs and encouraged Pyongyang to talk directly with the US … China’s role would be indispensable during the talks.”
Foreign diplomatic trips also allow senior officials to live ostentatiously without bringing any wealth directly back to North Korea, ensuring the continued repression of their people. Kim’s visits abroad, particularly to China, yield hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of luxury gifts, even though the United Nations has banned importing luxury goods into North Korea. Other diplomats demand expensive steak dinners with boutique whisky on hand, as was the case during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last year.