June 20, 2019 / 11:21 PM / 4 months ago

'I Love Thee, China' - North Korea woos Xi in lavish state visit

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping have agreed that strengthening bilateral ties, at a time of “serious and complicated” international affairs, is good for regional peace, North Korean state media said on Friday.

Xi left the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, on Friday after a two-day visit, the first by a Chinese leader in 14 years, during which he got a lavish reception that included thousands of people holding up placards that formed a picture of Xi’s face and the Chinese flag, and a performance of the song “I Love Thee, China”.

China is the North’s only major ally and Xi’s visit is aimed at bolstering the isolated country against pressure from U.N. sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes and a breakdown in denuclearisation talks with the United States.

The visit comes a week before Xi and U.S. President Donald Trump are due to meet at a G20 summit in Japan amid a trade dispute that has rattled global financial markets.

Video and photographs released by North Korean state media showed Kim and Xi greeting each other warmly when Xi arrived at Pyongyang airport. They drove through the streets of the capital in an open-top limousine, and later attended a “Mass Games” propaganda show.

The show - titled “Invincible Socialism” - was specially prepared for Xi’s visit and included songs such as “No New China without Communist Party” and “I Love Thee, China”, the KCNA news agency said.

One sign in Chinese read: “Happy to see you Grandpa Xi”.

A photo released by KCNA showed thousands of people holding placards to form a giant picture of Xi’s face and the Chinese flag at a mass gymnastics and arts performance.

Other photographs showed Xi and Kim gazing at cheering children and sitting with their wives.

The North Korean ruling party’s main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, ran a special expanded edition on Friday, with eight of 10 pages devoted to photos and text about Xi’s visit.

Xi and Kim on Friday visited the Friendship Tower, which commemorates Chinese troops who fought together with North Koreans during the 1950-53 Korean War, to pay their respects, Chinese state media said.

Xi thanked Kim for the enthusiastic welcome, China’s Xinhua news agency said.

No matter what changes there were in the international situation, China would resolutely support North Korea’s efforts to seek a political solution for the Korean peninsula issue and to achieve lasting stability, Xi added, largely reiterating comments from the previous day.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Pyongyang International Airport in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this undated photo released on June 21, 2019 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS

DECISIVE RELATIONSHIP

Kim said Xi’s visit, which may see China offer fresh support for North Korea’s floundering, sanctions-bound economy, was “decisive” to show their unchanging friendship to the world, KCNA said.

The two leaders had agreed to promote close strategic communication and strengthen cooperation in all fields, KCNA said.

Nevertheless, relations have been strained at times, particularly over North Korea's nuclear programme. (reut.rs/2KqPQbz)

China has publicly opposed North Korea’s nuclear tests and has called for it to give up its nuclear weapons. China, as a member of the U.N Security Council, has also voted to impose a number of sanctions on North Korea.

Kim is also not a popular figure in China, where he is often derisively called “Fatty Kim”, and some Chinese social media users expressed both dismay and amusement at the grand welcome laid on for Xi.

“This is the emperor’s visit to its vassal state,” wrote one person on the Weibo microblogging site.

In the South Korean capital, Seoul, a U.N. human rights expert said there were signs that China had been collaborating with North Korea to arrest more North Koreans escaping from their country.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in North Korea, called on China not to send the detainees back to North Korea because they could face torture.

Slideshow (13 Images)

On Thursday, Xi praised North Korea’s efforts towards denuclearisation and said the world hoped North Korea and the United States could talk to each other and for their talks to be successful.

Since a failed summit between Trump and Kim in Vietnam in February, North Korea has conducted some weapons tests and warned of “truly undesired consequences” if the United States is not more flexible.

At a banquet on Thursday, Xi said China firmly supported Kim seeking a political solution to the Korean Peninsula issue and the establishment of a great environment for self-development via a “new strategic line”, according to KCNA.

Reporting by Joyce Lee and Josh Smith, additional reporting by John Ruwitch in Shanghai and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing Darren Schuettler, Robert Birsel

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