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Xi Jinping arrives in North Korea in plane, may embarrass Kim Jong Un

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Chinese President Xi Jinping has arrived for his first-ever state visit to North Korea on Thursday, reportedly to a hero’s welcome that included a 21-gun salute and a cheering crowd of thousands.

He arrived by plane at Pyongyang’s Sunan International Airport around noon local time for his two-day summit with Kim, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Kim and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, personally greeted Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, on the tarmac, Xinhua said.

But the fact that Xi flew to North Korea highlights a difference between the two leaders that some say has embarrassed Kim in the past.

Kim and Xi during one of Kim’s four visits to China. Xi’s state visit to North Korea is the first by a Chinese leader in 14 years.
Xinhua News via Twitter

Though Kim flies domestically by plane — on a 40-year-old, Soviet-made Ilyushin Il-62 plane — he almost always takes a train for his international travels, even if lengthens his journey by several days.

The map below shows a 2,000-mile journey he took by train from Pyongyang to Hanoi earlier this year for his second summit with US President Donald Trump.

Google Maps/INSIDER

The one time Kim traveled out of his country by plane, at least as leader, was to Singapore last June for his first meeting with Trump.

To do so, he borrowed a Boeing 747 from Air China, which is majority-owned by the Chinese government. He had to borrow a plane because his own one was deemed unsafe for the 2,900-mile journey.

His use of a Chinese plane to his one-on-one meeting with Trump, which China did not attend, invited remarks that he was overly reliant on Beijing.

Kim returns to North Korea from Singapore after flying a borrowed Air China plane in June 2018.
KCNA via REUTERS

Kim did not appreciate those comments, The New York Times reported.

When he made his next major train journey, the Times cited Cheng Xiaohe, a North Korea expert at Beijing’s Renmin University, on that point.

Cheng said: “He does not want to show the world his heavy reliance on China by waving his hand in front of China’s national flag on a Chinese plane as he did at the Singapore airport.”

“Traveling by train is a forced choice.”

Read more: Inside Kim Jong Un’s personal train — which is bulletproof, has all-white conference rooms, and its own red carpet ramp

Kim leaving his train in Dong Dang, Vietnam, in February 2019 before his second summit with Trump.
Nhan Sang/VNA via REUTERS

A hero’s welcome for Xi

Xi’s trip to North Korea is the first from a Chinese leader in 14 years, and he was received like a hero.

According to Xinhua, North Korea held a “grand welcome ceremony” for Xi at the airport, which included a 21-gun salute, the playing of both countries’ national anthems, and an army march-past.

Nearly 10,000 people lined up at the airport, waving flowers, and chanting slogans to welcome the Chinese delegation, Xinhua said.

Xi then departed the airport in a huge motorcade, which included 21 motorcycles. Upon arriving to downtown Pyongyang, the Chinese leader then rode an open-top car alongside Kim to a central square.

Kim and Xi inspect honor guards in Beijing during Kim’s first visit to China in March 2018.
KCNA/via Reuters

The state visit comes as both countries’ relationships with the US turn increasingly sour.

Beijing and Washington are locked in a protracted trade war, which has seen both sides impose hundreds of billions of dollars on each others’ exports, and the Trump administration is trying to limit the influence of Chinese tech around the world.

North Korea’s relationship with the US has also soured since Kim and Trump’s February summit in Vietnam ended without an agreement.

Pyongyang conducted new missile tests last month, which US National Security Advisor John Bolton claimed violated UN Security Council resolutions.

Kim and Xi toast during Kim’s first visit to China in March 2018.
KCNA/via Reuters

On Wednesday both countries’ state media published an essay, written by Xi himself, that lauded the two countries’ friendship and praised North Korea for moving in the “right direction” by trying to resolve political issues on the Korean Peninsula.

Xi wrote, according to Xinhua: “I will pay a state visit to the DPRK with good wishes of carrying forward our friendship and writing a new chapter of our relations.”

DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the formal name for North Korea.

Read more: Chinese President Xi Jinping praises North Korea ahead of his historic 2-day trip to Pyongyang — the first for a Chinese leader in 14 years

Kim has been trying to alleviate international sanctions imposed on his regime, but they have remained in place. China has remained committed to those sanctions despite being North Korea’s largest trading partner.

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