Beijing, China - All eyes were on Singapore in June last year as a jumbo jet carrying Kim Jong Un landed on the tarmac of the city-state's Changi airport, days before the North Korean leader's landmark summit with US President Donald Trump.
As Kim took his first steps onto Singaporean soil, having completed his longest trip abroad as head of state, those watching noted that he hadn't disembarked from a North Korean airline - but a Chinese one.
Beijing's loan of the Air China 747 carrier made logistical sense. It provided Kim with a far more reliable mode of transport for the 4,800km trip to Singapore than his own decades-old official aircraft.
The move was symbolic besides being practical. Although China - North Korea's main ally - was not physically present at the Singapore meeting aimed at reviving stalled nuclear talks, it played a key role.
"China's blessing is important for North Korea," Tong Zhao, a nuclear policy fellow at the Beijing-based Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy, told Al Jazeera. Without Chinese support, he added, Pyongyang may fear being "strong-armed into an unfair deal".