World News

When Xi Met Kim: How China and North Korea Depicted It

Posted March 28, 2018 10:33 a.m. EDT

BEIJING — Kim Jong Un’s surprise visit to Beijing this week to meet President Xi Jinping added an element of intrigue to talks over North Korea’s nuclear program. It was also a propaganda opportunity for both men. For Xi, the meeting was a chance to cultivate an image as a peacemaker on the global stage. For Kim, it was an opportunity to signal membership in the club of world leaders.

Here’s a look at how the Chinese and North Korean news media portrayed the meeting.

— Xi the Elder Statesman

In North Korea, Kim is often pictured alongside throngs of admirers who hang on and record his every word.

But it was Kim who was taking notes during his meeting with Xi, at least in the Chinese news media coverage on Wednesday. Kim, 34, was shown dutifully scribbling on a piece of paper as Xi, 64, spoke of the need for close ties between their two countries.

The images gave Xi the appearance of an elder statesman at a time when he has sought to expand China’s influence over global affairs.

Ryan Hass, a former director for China at the National Security Council who is nowa fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said the coverage signaled that Beijing is “in control of a complex security challenge, serving as the center of international efforts to defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula.”

— Kim’s Confident Debut

While the Chinese news media published less flattering images of Kim, the North Korean media made sure he came across at home as charismatic, showing him smiling and offering a forceful handshake to Xi.

The state-run media showed photos of Kim’s extensive motorcade as well as Xi appearing to offer a toast to Kim. Those images did not appear in Chinese media.

Kim, making his debut on the global stage, was most likely eager to show he was a respected figure who could hold his own with one of the world’s most powerful leaders. In North Korea he was depicted, without exception, as strong and in charge.

— Ideological Brethren

Mao Zedong once said China and North Korea, longtime communist allies, were as “close as lips and teeth.”

But relations between the two countries have been strained in recent decades. However, there was no hint of that tension in the coverage of Kim’s visit this week.

Chinese and the North Korean news media portrayed the two countries as ideological comrades. Kim was welcomed in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, as a military band played. News reports said he and Xi watched an art performance together, joined by their wives.

Orville Schell, director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at Asia Society in New York, described the pageantry as a “renaissance of the old socialist-style, big-leader rituals.”

“They certainly didn’t just sneak him in the back door,” he said of Kim. “It looked like he got pretty close to the full monty.”

— Personal Chemistry

Both men seemed eager to convey that they have a renewed commitment to working together, and a personal chemistry that will unite them.

Xi showed considerable warmth toward Kim, smiling widely and offering affectionate embraces. Kim returned the fondness, waving enthusiastically as he departed.

The budding alliance between the two leaders may put new pressure on President Donald Trump, who is expected to meet with Kim in the coming weeks. While the location for a meeting has not yet been decided, some analysts say that Xi may be angling to have it in Beijing.

“That would make Trump like the three-wheel bicycle,” Schell said. “He would have to go to Beijing again, and almost be the supplicant to these old allies that have patched up their marriage.”