Xi Jinping visit to North Korea: Front-page news in Pyongyang - but only just

A commemorative stamp featuring a meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping at a shop in Pyongyang on June 18, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

PYONGYANG (AFP) - Chinese President Xi Jinping's forthcoming visit to North Korea this week was in the news in Pyongyang on Tuesday (June 18), but in the country where Kim Jong Un comes first, it only just made the front page.

The Rodong Sinmun newspaper, the official mouthpiece of the ruling Workers' Party, made it the fourth item on page one, in a highlight box but without a picture.

"Xi Jinping to visit DPRK", read the headline, using the North's formal name.

The one-sentence story said that Xi would be making a state visit "at the invitation of Kim Jong Un", giving both men's national and party titles.

The trip by the leader of the North's key diplomatic ally and main provider of trade and aid has long been awaited, and comes after Kim travelled to China four times for meetings with Xi.

But the Rodong Sinmun's top item is always about Kim, and it led with news that the Venezuelan city of Naguanagua had awarded him its top honour to mark the one-year anniversary of his Singapore summit with US President Donald Trump.

Nuclear negotiations with Washington have since stalled, with a second summit in Hanoi breaking up as the two sides disagreed over the extent of sanctions relief and what the North would be willing to give up in return.

Analysts say that Xi's journey is intended as a signal to Trump - with whom he is embroiled in a separate dispute over trade - of his backing for Kim and influence with him.

In Pyongyang, commuters waiting for their trains read about the visit in newsstands at subway stations.

The city's metro system is one of the deepest in the world, intended for use as a shelter in the event of nuclear war.

The stations have names such as Victory, Glory and Reunification, and some are ornately decorated with marble columns and mosaics of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, or scenes of development, and mainstays of tourist itineraries in the capital.

Many of the travellers on Tuesday wore wellingtons for protection against the heavy rain that was falling in the capital - after months of drought, the North has seen significant rainfall this month.

Each morning, subway staff insert the latest edition of the paper in the station displays - one of the main ways ordinary citizens can access the publication, which is always uniformly supportive of the authorities and the Kim family.

Its second item on Tuesday was on the many books written by Kim's father and predecessor Kim Jong Il.

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