A History of Visits by North Korean Leaders to China
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un shook hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping on his first visit to Beijing from Sunday to Wednesday, the official Xinhua News Agency reported on Wednesday. It was Kim’s first visit to China six years after he took power, a relatively long wait compared with his father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather Kim Il Sung, who paid up to 10 visits to China after they became top leaders of North Korea.
The visit saw the pair talk about defusing tensions on the Korean Peninsula and repairing North Korean diplomatic ties with the West. More importantly, the visit pointed to Kim’s desire to continue a tradition of making regular diplomatic visits to China, which historically were done to highlight Chinese-North Korean ties.
Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s first supreme leader, officially visited China 11 times between 1953 and 1991 as state leader, which remains an unusually high number of repeat visits for any foreign leader. He first entered China with his family when he was 14, seeking asylum during World War II, and fought for a Chinese-Soviet coalition in retaking his homeland.
The following visits are compiled from official reports from People’s Daily and the Xinhua News Agency.
1. Nov. 12 to 26, 1953 – Kim Il Sung visited China four months after the end of the Korean War as leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), North Korea’s official name. During the visit he pledged an eternal “brotherhood” between the peoples of China and Korea, and signed an agreement promising cultural and economic mutual assistance from China. He also received aid for rebuilding North Korea after the war.
2. Sept. 29 to Oct. 5, 1954 – A year later, Kim Il Sung arrived in China to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Kim was seen photographed together with Chairman Mao Zedong, along with Zhu De, Zhou Enlai, and other communist leaders atop the Tiananmen gates during the parade.
3. Nov. 24 to 28, 1958 – Kim Il Sung visited again after China withdrew its army from North Korea in October of the same year. During the visit, he inspected Beijing’s Tsinghua University and gave a speech to its students and staff, expressing a desire to improve North Korea’s higher education along similar lines.
4. Sept. 30 to Oct. 1, 1959 – Kim Il Sung joined a gathering of 5,000 foreign dignitaries, among them Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, as well as leaders of Vietnam, Bulgaria, Albania, Mongolia, East Germany, Romania, and other then-Soviet Bloc nations, to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the People’s Republic of China’s founding.
5. July 10 to 15, 1961 – Kim Il Sung met with Premier Zhou Enlai to sign the “Sino-North Korean Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty,” pledging mutual safety, diplomatic friendship, and continued socialism.
The deterioration of Sino-Soviet relations during the 1960s also saw a decrease in the North Korean leader’s diplomatic visits. In 1969, Kim Il Sung failed to appear in person at the 20th anniversary celebrations of China’s founding, opting to send a high-ranking official in his place. This arrangement continued until 1975.
6. April 18 to 26, 1975 – Kim Il Sung once again returned to China officially as premier of North Korea, marking a detente in Sino-North Korean relations. During his visit, he met with then-Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping, Mao Zedong, and the gravely ill Zhou Enlai. He then reportedly visited Nanjing and toured the Yangtze River, accompanied by Deng.
7. Sept. 16 to 25, 1982 – Seven years later, Kim Il Sung returned to China expressing a desire to maintain mutual cooperation and frequent diplomatic exchanges between the two nations. He then toured various corners of China while accompanied by General Secretary Hu Yaobang and Deng, now premier.
8. Nov. 26 to 28, 1984 – Kim Il Sung conducted an unofficial visit to China. The details of his trip remain unknown.
9. May 21 to 25, 1987 – Kim Il Sung, now 72, spoke at a conference about Sino-North Korean relations. He then toured Beijing and met up with old comrades and friends. During a conversation with Deng Xiaoping, he reportedly suggested a joint hosting with South Korea for the upcoming Olympic Games. However, the games were ultimately hosted solely by South Korea as originally planned.
10. Nov. 5 to 7, 1989 – During a publicly "unofficial" visit, Kim Il Sung met with Deng and then-General Secretary Jiang Zemin to discuss furthering Sino-North Korean friendship as well as defusing tensions over the Korean Peninsula.
11. Oct. 4 to 13, 1991 – Kim Il Sung made his last official visit, during which he met with a semi-retired and aging Deng as old friends for the last time. During his visitation ceremony, Kim spoke about supporting a system of “two governments, one Korea,” and suggested, with Chinese support, a “federal” united Korean peninsula. At the age of 80, Kim then proceeded to tour China once more, promising to come visit again whenever he had time.
Kim Il Sung died in 1994, and his nation entered a period of mourning for three years. On the diplomatic front, Sino-North Korean relations took a hit when China sought to establish ties with South Korea in 1992, and Kim Il Sung never visited China officially again. It was only in 1997 that his successor and son, Kim Jong Il, would revisit China on a diplomatic basis.
Kim Jong Il’s eight visits to China: Investigating developmental experience
1. On Jun. 2, 1983, Kim Jong Il paid his first visit to China as the secretary of the Central Committee of the ruling Worker’s Party of Korea, which was publicized a month later. Kim was welcomed by almost all of China’s senior officials, including Deng Xiaoping. During his 11-day visit, he went to several cities and visited the Palace Museum.
2. Between May 29 to 31, 2000, Kim Jong Il made a visit to China roughly six years after becoming the general secretary of the Worker’s Party of Korea. This visit was in the media spotlight because he came only a month before a planned summit meeting with South Korea, which was the first one after the Korean Peninsula split in 1945. Kim held talks with Chinese President Jiang Zemin and other top officials such as Li Peng and Zhu Rongji. Jiang said that China gave strong backing to the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula and supported the summit meeting. Kim also visited the Tiananmen Rostrum and a factory operated by PC-maker Lenovo.
3. On Jan. 15, 2001, Kim Jong Il paid an unofficial visit to China at Jiang Zemin’s invitation. Apart from holding talks with Jiang, he spent four days in Shanghai, visiting the Pudong New District, Baoshan Iron & Steel Co., and other projects related to high technology.
4. On Apr. 19, 2004, Kim Jong Il paid an unofficial visit to China at the invitation of President Hu Jintao. Both leaders acknowledged the positive result of the three-party talks in Beijing and two rounds of Six-Party Talks aimed at denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.
5. From Jan. 10 to 18, 2006, Kim Jong Il paid his longest visit to China since becoming leader of the DPRK. After visiting several cities in China such as Shenzhen, studying companies and departments of agriculture, technology and education, Kim spoke highly of China’s social and national strength improvement. He also held talks with leaders in Beijing.
6. On May 3, 2010, Kim Jong Il visited China as tensions on the Korean Peninsula escalated after the sinking of a South Korean military ship and tremendous stress from international sanctions after the North’s second nuclear test. Northeast China was the main area of his trip, including visits to technology and machine manufacturing companies. Hu Jintao gave five suggestions on the Sino-North Korea relationship.
7. On Aug. 26, 2010, Kim Jong Il paid another visit to China at the invitation of Hu Jintao. He went to Jilin, Changchun, and Harbin to learn developmental experiences in the food, manufacturing and chemical industries. During his visit, Wu Dawei, China’s special envoy, was sent to South Korea and Japan to mediate the reopening of Six-Party Talks.
8. On May 20, 2011, Kim Jong Il paid an unofficial visit to China at the invitation of Hu Jintao. 2011 marked the 50th anniversary of the “Sino-North Korean Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty,” and Kim visited companies engaged in agriculture, technology and commerce projects.
9. On Aug. 25, 2011 Kim Jong Il paid his last visit to China and went to Heilongjiang province, where he visited the Mengniu Dairy, the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall and residential areas under construction.
(Translated by Michael Xin and Wei Xiding)
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