BEIJING • Chinese President Xi Jinping will burnish China's fragile alliance with North Korea by making his first trip to Pyongyang as president this week - and yesterday he sealed their friendship in ink, offering a "grand plan" for regional stability.
Mr Xi, who will be the first Chinese president to visit Pyongyang in 14 years, penned a rare front-page opinion piece in North Korea's official newspaper, touting their "irreplaceable" bond on the eve of his two-day trip.
Mr Xi is visiting the country today and tomorrow at the invitation of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as both men face their own protracted negotiations with United States President Donald Trump.
In the opinion piece in the Rodong Sinmun - the official mouthpiece of the North's ruling Workers' Party - Mr Xi said Beijing was willing to draw up a "grand plan" with Pyongyang to achieve permanent stability in East Asia.
He also vowed that Beijing would play an active role in "strengthening communication and coordination with North Korea and other relevant parties" to push forward negotiations on the Korean peninsula.
At subway stations in Pyongyang, commuters crowded around newsstands to read Mr Xi's article.
It appeared on page one of the Rodong Sinmun, in the bottom right-hand corner. The whole of the top half of the front page was devoted to an editorial calling on citizens to uphold the works of Mr Kim's father and predecessor Kim Jong Il in building up the Workers' Party.
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 Mr Kim travelled to China four times for meetings with Mr Xi.
Mr Xi, who will be given the honour of a state visit, will pay homage at the capital's Friendship Tower.
In recent days soldiers and workers have been sprucing up the tower, a monument to the Chinese troops who saved the North from defeat during the Korean War.
Workers repainted white lines on the pavements of central Pyongyang yesterday, trimmed grass verges and added fresh coats of pesticide to trees, as broom-wielding students swept away dirt.
As the sun set over Kim Il Sung Square, Chinese flags were raised in key locations and along roads throughout the city, alternating with North Korean emblems fluttering in the evening breeze.
In his op-ed, Mr Xi stressed that this year marks the 70th anniversary of Beijing-Pyongyang relations. "Over the past 70 years we have been unyieldingly advancing forward in the same boat, breaking through rain and wind," Mr Xi wrote. "One can say this friendship is irreplaceable, even with an enormous fortune".