North Korean officials said on Friday they expect Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit Pyongyang on September 9, which will mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the communist state.
It is not clear if Xi expects to spend September 9 in Pyongyang, however. When South Korean reporters visiting Pyongyang asked North Korean officials if Xi’s visit was confirmed, their response was, “He has to come because we have invited him.”
China and North Korea have been discussing a Xi visit since March. The Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed in April that Xi intends to “maintain regular contact with Chairman Kim Jong Un through visits, special envoys and the exchange of letters.”
Details of precisely when Xi might drop by to hang out with Kim have always been hard to come by. CNN quoted an “official with knowledge of the discussions” on April 18 who said the Xi visit would happen “soon,” but it was not clear which government this official worked for. Three months later, North Korean officials are saying Xi will definitely show up for the big anniversary celebration two months from now because he surely wouldn’t dream of refusing the invitation.
Given that Kim has made three increasingly high-profile visits to Beijing, and China clearly wants to signal that a page has been turned in North Korean history, Xi’s reluctance to commit to a reciprocal state visit seems noteworthy, or at least slightly amusing.
North Korea has plenty of “founding anniversaries” to choose from if Xi decides he does not want to be in Pyongyang on September 9. The anniversary of the ruling Communist Party’s establishment was treated as the 70th anniversary of the national founding in 2017, as was the 70th anniversary of the Korean People’s Army in February 2018. September’s event promises to be the biggest 70th anniversary yet, with a theme of “victory on all fronts” and an exuberant celebration of North Korea’s “advanced scientific and technological power.”