A day after the Chinese Foreign Ministry claimed it had “no idea” if North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un was in the country, the state propaganda arms of both countries confirmed that Kim and his wife met with China’s communist leader, Xi Jinping.
Both Xinhua, one of China’s state news services, and Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) quoted the leaders as heaping lavish praise on each other during their encounter, the first time that Kim Jong-un is known to have left North Korea since becoming the nation’s tyrant in 2011.
The two reportedly discussed the greatness of the bilateral relationship and vowed to deeply enrich it following several major diplomatic developments for North Korea this year. Kim has publicly agreed to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and American President Donald Trump this spring, according to South Korean officials, but had said nothing about China, triggering dramatic proclamations in Chinese media that Beijing had not been “marginalized” by improved relations with the other two states.
The surprise visit appears, in part, a way to placate Xi’s demands for attention from Pyongyang. China is North Korea’s largest trading partner, responsible for more than 90 percent of North Korea’s international trade in 2016. Since then, China has signed onto several United Nations sanctions against the regime, urging Kim to abandon his illegal nuclear weapons program.
According to Xinhua, “Xi held talks with Kim at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan held a welcoming banquet for Kim and his wife Ri Sol Ju and watched an art performance together.”
“We speak highly of this visit,” Xi reportedly told his North Korean counterpart, adding:
Both Comrade Chairman and I have personally experienced and witnessed the development of China-DPRK relationship.
This is a strategic choice and the only right choice both sides have made based on history and reality, the international and regional structure and the general situation of China-DPRK ties.
“This should not and will not change because of any single event at a particular time,” Xi warned.
Xi emphasized the importance of the two nations’ “common ideals and beliefs as well as profound revolutionary friendship,” according to Xinhua, and applauded Kim Jong-un for “taking a series of active measures and scoring achievements in developing economy and improving people’s wellbeing in recent years.”
North Korea is one of the world’s most impoverished countries. According to defectors who have escaped the regime, many North Koreans are forced to eat grass, boil rats, and resort to cannibalism to survive.
Kim, meanwhile, applauded Xi’s recent attempts to cement himself in power perpetually and celebrated what he called a “spring full of happiness and hopes.”
“I believe my first meeting with General Secretary Xi Jinping will yield abundant fruits of DPRK-China friendship, and facilitate peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” Kim told the Chinese, according to Xinhua.
He also reportedly claimed he was ready to end the nation’s illegal nuclear weapons program.
“It is our consistent stand to be committed to denuclearization on the peninsula, in accordance with the will of late President Kim Il Sung and late General Secretary Kim Jong Il,” Kim reportedly said. He continued:
The issue of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula can be resolved, if south [sic] Kim does not recognize the sovereignty of South Korea] Korea and the United States respond to our efforts with goodwill, create an atmosphere of peace and stability while taking progressive and synchronous measures for the realization of peace.
According to the website 38 North, which monitors North Korean media, coverage at KCNA did not deviate significantly from that of its fellow communist outlet, Xinhua, except for one matter: denuclearization. The KCNA coverage emphasized the need to strengthen ties with China but reportedly did not mention any talk of ending Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
Kim, instead, reportedly highlighted “the need to meet with the Chinese comrades often, including Xi Jinping, to fruther [sic] deepen friendship and strengthen the strategic communication and strategic and tactical cooperation so as to consolidate the unity and cooperation between the two countries.”
KCNA claims Kim invited Xi to visit Pyongyang and that Xi gave Kim Jong-un full credit for any diplomatic improvements that occurred in the past year.
In a commentary, the Global Times, a Chinese propaganda newspaper, called the bilateral ties with North Korea “solid and unshakeable.” The newspaper also appeared to criticize South Korea for attempting to strengthen its own relationship with Pyongyang: “friendly ties between Beijing and Pyongyang will undoubtedly be the most stable channel to help ease tensions on the peninsula, which should be cherished and supported by various forces that truly care about peace there.”
Following Kim’s visit to Beijing, and Beijing’s denials about it, President Trump confirmed on Wednesday that Xi Jinping sent him a personal message about the meeting.
“Received message last night from XI JINPING of China that his meeting with KIM JONG UN went very well and that KIM looks forward to his meeting with me,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
“For years and through many administrations, everyone said that peace and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was not even a small possibility,” he added. “Now there is a good chance that Kim Jong Un will do what is right for his people and for humanity. Look forward to our meeting!”
The transcript of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s briefing on Tuesday does not include spokeswoman Hua Chunying’s remark that she had “no idea” if Kim was in the country, a remark CNN reported.