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

Joyce Lee and Josh Smith, Reuters

Posted at Jun 21 2019 05:20 PM

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and wife Ri Sol Ju look on as China's President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan are greeted by performers at a mass display during Xi's visit 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

SEOUL, South Korea - 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 UN sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs and a breakdown in denuclearization talks with the United States.

The visit comes a week before Xi and US 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.

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.

Nevertheless, relations have been strained at times, particularly over North Korea's nuclear program.

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 UN Security Council, has also voted to impose a number of sanctions on North Korea.

Xi said China and North Korea agreed that a political settlement of the Korean peninsula's nuclear issue has been "an inevitable trend", and they needed to stick to peace talks, according to Xinhua, China's state news agency.

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

In the South Korean capital, Seoul, a UN human rights expert said there were signs that China had been collaborating with North Korea to arrest more North Korean escapees.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN 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.

On Thursday, Xi praised North Korea's efforts towards denuclearization 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 dinner 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.