China is the North’s only major ally and the visit comes amid renewed tension on the Korean peninsula as the United States seeks to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, greeted Xi at the airport, Chinese state TV said. Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, and officials who played prominent roles in recent nuclear talks with the United States were also on hand.
Xi was driven through Pyongyang in a convertible car and greeted warmly by the crowds on his way to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, a complex that serves as the mausoleum for North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung, the report said.
President Xi was greeted by Kim and other top officials upon his arrival in the North Korean capital, becoming the first Chinese leader to visit the reclusive neighboring country in 14 years.
According to Chinese state media, President Xi began talks with the North Korean leader shortly after arriving Pyongyang on Thursday morning.
The trip is also an assertion of a key leverage point that China has in its deteriorating relationship with the United States, diplomats say.
“Comrade Xi Jinping is visiting…in the face of crucial and grave tasks due to complex international relations, which clearly shows the Chinese party and the government place high significance on the friendship,” the North’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said.
The trip highlights two-way ties that “never waver despite any headwinds,” and strengthens “blood ties” between the two peoples, it added in a front-page commentary.
Xi will hold a summit with Kim Jong Un, attend a welcoming banquet and watch a mass gymnastic performance on his first day, according to Chinese state media.
He is also expected to pay tribute at the Friendship Tower, which commemorates Chinese troops who fought together with North Koreans during the 1950-53 Korean War. The conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty, leaving the North technically still at war with South Korea.