Kim Jong-un departed China on Wednesday after an extensive meeting and lavish banquet with Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, who, according to North Korean state media, congratulated Kim for “steering” the conversation during his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump this month.
Kim flew to China on Tuesday on an Air Koryo plane, the official state airline of the North Korean regime, for his third meeting with Xi in China in the past three months. Unlike the other two visits, Chinese state media reported on Kim’s presence while he was still in the country, not after he had returned home. North Korean state media reported on the trip once Kim returned to Pyongyang, but much more quickly than it did with the other two visits.
Kim visited Beijing for his first-ever visit to a foreign country as head of state in March. In May, Xi invited him to Dalian, a seaside city, for talks shortly before his June 12 summit with Trump.
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korea’s state news outlet, reported that Chinese Communist Party members “exchanged warm greetings” with Kim and wife Ri Sol-ju upon his arrival and expressed “deep respect and trust for him.”
In talks with Xi, Kim received more praise, according to KCNA.
“Xi Jinping gave high appreciation and extended heartfelt congratulations to Chairman Kim Jong Un for having steered the DPRK-U.S. summit meeting and talks successfully and put the situation of the Korean Peninsula on the track of dialogue, negotiation, peace and stability,” KCNA reported. The two allegedly shared “beneficial views on a series of issues of mutual concern,” including “the prospect for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Xi reportedly told Kim that “China and the DPRK [North Korea] would learn, consult, unite and cooperate with each other as close friends and comrades to jointly open up rosier and beautiful future of the socialist cause in the two countries.”
Chinese state media were more forthcoming than KCNA on what the two discussed. According to an expert quoted in the Global Times government newspaper, Kim and Xi “discussed details on implementing the agreement signed in Singapore as North Korea needs assistance on denuclearization and China is an indispensable part of a peace treaty on the Korean Peninsula.”
Another expert claimed that the visit was primarily to ensure that Kim could rely on China to pressure the United States to ensure that Pyongyang receives the most favorable deal possible on denuclearization.
The Global Times claimed that China “played an active role in promoting the peace process on the Korean Peninsula and will continue to broker negotiations between the US and North Korea,” despite the Chinese government’s playing no role in the Trump-Kim summit.
Kim, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reports, emphasized that their two countries are “as close and friendly as family.”
China’s absence on the Singapore stage appeared to alarm the Xi regime. State media have repeatedly condemned the summit as useless and yielding merely “a vague four-point joint statement with no timetable or roadmap.” The Global Times protested last week that the problem with the summit was that Trump had too many “unrealistic ideas” and needed to “borrow some wisdom from Eastern philosophy,” suggesting China should play a bigger role in talks.
South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo notes that Kim reportedly thanks Xi for his “constructive role” in the talks, before proceeding to mock the declaration.
It is unclear what “constructive role” China exactly played in the North-U.S. summit, but Trump didn’t shy away from expressing dismay at Xi’s influence on Kim in late May, weeks after Kim’s second visit to China. Trump said he was “a little disappointed” about Kim’s apparent change of posture after his second summit with Xi. He said there was “a little change in attitude” from the North Korean leader, without going into the details.
In addition to ensuring China that North Korea has not forgotten its status as a Chinese satellite state, Kim’s visit also served an economic purpose. Kim reportedly spent much of Wednesday visiting Chinese agricultural centers to learn how China has evolved its farming science.
“Chairman Kim’s visit to the company can be seen as part of preparations for large-scale joint economic projects in the event that sanctions against North Korea are eased,” a source told Yonhap. “There will be many things to discuss between North Korea and China, especially in connection with the construction of roads and railways.”
Despite North Korea’s demands for economic aid, the Chinese government insists it will continue to impose U.N. sanctions on the fellow rogue regime. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, an unnamed Chinese official noted that Chinese companies are expecting the sanctions to lift but are not yet allowed to do business as if they have. This remark contradicts reports that China has already begun relaxing the imposition of sanctions on border towns along the Yalu River, fining those who violate them while letting North Korean workers and merchandise in.