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The exhibition hall, symbol of North Korea-China friendship, closed: Turbulence between Kim and Xi

The exhibition hall, symbol of North Korea-China friendship, closed: Turbulence between Kim and Xi
The exhibition hall, symbol of North Korea-China friendship, closed: Turbulence between Kim and Xi


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un greets Chinese President Xi Jinping at the international airport in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this undated photo released June 21, 2019 by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) of Korea North. Photo: KCNA via REUTERS


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un greets Chinese President Xi Jinping at the international airport in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this undated photo released June 21, 2019 by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) of Korea North. Photo: KCNA via REUTERS

The “footprint tribute”, known to commemorate the walk and friendship between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping during Kim's visit to Dalian, China, in May 2018, was recently identified as being removed.

According to several sources, the tribute, which was on the beach of Bangchui Island, on the outskirts of Dalian, where the two leaders were walking and conversing, is nowhere to be found, reports JoongAng Ilbo, a South Korean daily.

Photos recently obtained from North Korean sources by JoongAng Ilbo only show tracks covered in black asphalt concrete where the prints were.

JoongAng Ilbo also collected images from the past showing the tribute installed, with two pairs of footprints side by side facing the same direction. Although there has been no official announcement from China regarding the installation of this tribute, it is widely known that it was installed to commemorate the walk of the two leaders.

In light of this, speculation is circulating in diplomatic circles that removing the prints would have been impossible without President Xi's approval. A local source close to the matter told the daily: “There is a good chance that the central government has given instructions for the eviction.”

Another source said, “It is also known that the '7th Exhibition Hall,' previously located in a restaurant near the beach on Bangchui Island, has been closed,” adding, “Chairman Kim also came in the exhibition hall as it featured photos of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il's visits to Bangchui Island.” The exact timing of the removal of the footprint and the closing of the exhibition hall has not been confirmed.

Oh Kyung-seop, a researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said: “This decision appears to have been made because there is no longer a need to maintain or manage the tribute, whether due to problems in relations between North Korea and China or for any other reason.”

Given the symbolism inherent in the meeting between the two leaders, other questions arise. Kim made a surprise visit to Dalian just a month before the first North Korea-US summit (June 12, 2018). Kim, who was taking a private plane to China, had a tight schedule in the order of official meeting, welcome dinner, beach walk on Bangchui Island and lunch with President Xi. The highlight of the event was the beach walk.

At that time, the two leaders walked side by side, displaying their friendship, accompanied only by interpreters. Bangchui Island has been a place where Chinese leaders have gone to host foreign leaders or relax since the days of Mao Zedong. Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-un's grandfather, also visited the island several times. This location also serves as the backdrop for Kim and Xi’s “promenade diplomacy.”

CCTV, China's state media outlet, has repeatedly broadcast scenes of the two leaders walking on the beach on Bangchui Island. The Korean Central News Agency said Kim described relations between North Korea and China as a “new golden age” and “one inseparable body,” to which President Xi responded: “the two countries are destined partners, bound by a relationship of immutable loyalty.”

In this context, some see in the disappearance of the tribute to the imprint and the closure of the exhibition hall signs of turbulence in relations between the two countries.

In fact, recently the North Korean Foreign Ministry took an unusual stance by issuing a statement criticizing China, the Republic of Korea and Japan immediately after the May 27 trilateral summit. The same day, North Korea launched a military reconnaissance satellite. This can be interpreted as a clear expression of President Kim's dissatisfaction with China.




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