N. Korea, China continue warming ties

By Ock Hyun-ju
  • Published : Apr 17, 2018 - 17:51
  • Updated : Apr 17, 2018 - 17:55

North Korea and China continue to warm ties ahead of Pyongyang’s planned summits with Seoul and Washington, with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un hailing Chinese art troupe’s visit to Pyongyang as “significant.”

Kim said that the Chinese art troupe’s visit to the North “serves as a significant occasion in carrying forward and further consolidating the tradition of the two countries’ ties,” the Korean Central News Agency reported Tuesday.

In a sign of closer ties, a Chinese art troupe, led by Song Tao, the head of the international department at the Central Committee of the Communist Party, arrived in Pyongyang on Friday for the April Spring Friendship Art Festival.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un welcomes Song Tao, the head of the international department at the Central Committee of the Communist Party, in Pyongyang, Korean Central TV reported Saturday. (Yonhap)

Kim and his wife Ri Sol-ju on Monday watched a ballet choreodrama of “Red Women Company” by the Chinese art troupe, the KCNA reported. Kim Yo-jong, the North Korean leader’s younger sister, Choe Ryong-hae, vice chairman of the Workers’ Party Central Committee, and Ri Su-yong, the vice chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party, also attended the performance.

“He (Song Tao) said Xi Jinping is attaching very great importance to the joint agreement made with Kim Jong-un, expressing the will to deepen exchanges in the cultural and art field and other various fields,” the KCNA said.

Kim plans to hold a summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on April 27 and with US President Donald Trump in May or in early June.

Kim met Song on Saturday to exchange “deep thoughts” on international issues of concern to North Korea and China and vowed to improve bilateral relations, according to the state media.

Kim’s warm welcome contrasts with Song’s last visit to Pyongyang last November, when he was sent as Xi’s special envoy to discuss the outcome of China’s 19th Party Congress. He returned to Beijing without meeting Kim, which was seen as a sign of their strained relations.

Talks are underway about a possible visit by Xi to Pyongyang in June after the inter-Korean summit and North Korea-US summit, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported Monday, quoting Chinese and North Korean sources.

The news outlet added that China will make a final decision after observing the results of the planned US-North summit.

Kim reportedly invited Xi to North Korea during his visit to China in late March.

Their rapidly warming ties fuel concerns that the international sanctions regime against North Korea might be undermined.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un asked for China’s economic assistance, as well as backing for the regime’s survival and the easing of military threats, Asahi Shimbun reported Tuesday.

The Japanese media outlet speculated that possible measures by China could include supplying energy to North Korea and creating a special economic zone near the border between the two countries.

“China cannot stop imposing sanctions against North Korea due to the UN Security Council’s resolution on sanctions against the country, but China can still offer assistance to North Korea in sectors irrelevant of the sanctions,” an official was quoted as saying.

China, North Korea’s traditional ally and biggest trading partner, has backed international sanctions against the reclusive regime over a series of nuclear and missile tests by the North, which had frayed their relations.

But the two countries have been seeking to warm ties ahead of Kim’s meeting with Moon on April 27 and with Trump by June over the North’s nuclear weapons program.

Kim made a surprise visit to Beijing in late March to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping, which was seen as benefiting both countries. North Korea might have wanted to increase its leverage ahead of the historic summits, and China might have intended to show that it is still a major player in resolving the North’s nuclear standoff.

While North Korea and China are mending ties, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe headed to the US on Tuesday to meet Trump to discuss both trade and Trump’s plans for a summit with the North Korean leader.