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N Korea at crossroads

China's Xi arrives in Pyongyang for first visit as president

Chinese leader expected to press Kim Jong Un to maintain US dialogue over nukes

Chinese President Xi Jinping is likely to discuss increasing assistance to North Korea's cash-strapped economy during his first state visit to Pyongyang.   © Reuters

BEIJING (Kyodo) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Pyongyang from Beijing by plane on Thursday, making his first trip to North Korea since he came to power in 2013, Chinese state media reported.

Xi is the first Chinese president to visit North Korea in 14 years, reflecting the improvement in bilateral ties since North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made his first trip as supreme leader to China in March last year.

At their planned talks, Xi is expected to call on Kim to maintain dialogue with the United States toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and to focus on building up the country's moribund economy.

The Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece newspaper of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, said Thursday in an editorial that North Korea welcomes Xi's visit.

The nation's friendship with China is a "cornerstone to protect peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and the region," North Korea's most influential newspaper said.

Beijing and Pyongyang are marking the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations this year.

On his Twitter account earlier in the day, British Ambassador to North Korea Colin Crooks posted pictures showing many people gathered along streets, and Chinese and North Korean flags displayed in Pyongyang before Xi's arrival.

Xi, meanwhile, said in the Rodong Sinmun on Wednesday that he is ready to help find a political solution to issues related to the divided peninsula and work out a plan with Pyongyang to realize regional stability.

In the newspaper, Xi said he is "ready to devise a far-reaching plan to realize permanent regional stability."

The Chinese president also expressed support for dialogue in solving matters of "reasonable interest" to North Korea, indicating China wants the United States to meet North Korea's demands for a security guarantee and the easing of economic sanctions.

China and North Korea, which fought together in the 1950-1953 Korean War against U.S.-led United Nations forces, have been long described as "blood brothers." Since the cease-fire, Beijing has exerted its economic and political influence over Pyongyang.

Xi's meeting with Kim will come around a week before the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, where world political leaders, including Xi and U.S. President Donald Trump, will gather.

On the sidelines of the summit, Xi and Trump are likely to hold bilateral talks. Xi may try to use potential progress with North Korea as a bargaining chip to extract concessions from Washington, as the world's two largest economies have been engaged in a tit-for-tat tariff trade war, pundits say.

Xi and Kim will meet for the first time since the second U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi in late February collapsed, due largely to the gap between Washington's insistence on denuclearization and Pyongyang's demand for sanctions relief.

Kim, who wants the international community to lift economic sanctions, could attempt to obtain backing from China to move ahead with negotiations with Washington, as the Trump administration is unwilling to readily compromise with Pyongyang.

In recent years, relations between Beijing and Pyongyang had soured with North Korea pursuing nuclear weapons, which could even pose a direct threat to China in the future.

In an apparent snub, Xi in 2014 became the first Chinese president to visit South Korea without going to the North first.

Sino-North Korean ties, however, have improved as Kim has visited China four times for talks with Xi. Kim invited Xi to make a trip to North Korea.

Xi previously visited North Korea in July 2005 and June 2008, when he was the head of the Zhejiang Province and Chinese vice president, respectively.

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