China Reaffirms ‘Deep Friendship’ with North Korea in High-Level Pyongyang Meeting

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The visit by Zhao Leji, who ranks third in the ruling Communist party hierarchy and who also heads the ceremonial parliament, marks the highest-level meeting between China and North Korea in nearly five years.

A top ranking Chinese official on Saturday reasserted China’s “deep friendship” with North Korea during a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang, China’s state media reported, in the highest-level talks between the allies in nearly five years.

The visit by Zhao Leji, the third-ranking member of the ruling Chinese Communist party and who also heads the ceremonial parliament, came as North Korea test-fired missiles to intimidate South Korea and its ally, the US.

China has provided little detail about the aims of Zhao’s three-day visit, which started on Thursday and coincides with the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The Xinhua news agency reported that Zhao told Kim at Saturday’s meeting that China, North Korea’s most important source of economic aid and diplomatic support, looked forward to further developing ties, but made no mention of the political situation on the peninsula or the region.

The Chinese foreign ministry said earlier this week that Zhao’s visit reflected the “deep friendship” between the two countries and the “great importance China attaches to its relations” with North Korea.

Since diplomatic ties were established 75 years ago, China and North Korea have been “good neighbours and struggled together to attain a common destiny and level of development”, Xinhua quoted Zhao as saying.

China fought on behalf of the reclusive communist state against the US and others during the 1950-1953 Korean war, and in recent years has helped prop up its weak economy, allegedly in violation of UN sanctions in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme, which Beijing had endorsed.

Zhao met his North Korean counterpart Choe Ryong-hae on Thursday and discussed how to promote exchanges and cooperation in all areas, the official North Korean Central news agency reported.

The senior Chinese official said after the meeting that his country is ready to intensify high-level exchanges with North Korea and strengthen strategic coordination, Chinese state media reported.

Zhao’s visit to North Korea marked the first bilateral exchange involving a Chinese politburo standing committee member since the COVID-19 pandemic started. North Korea closed its borders during the height of the pandemic amid reports of a major outbreak and food shortages. Before the outbreak, Kim and China’s President Xi Jinping held two summits in 2019.

North Korea and China are expected to hold a number of exchanges this year to mark the anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties. Pyongyang has sought to boost its cooperation with Beijing and Russia in the face of a standoff with the US and South Korea over its missile launches and nuclear programme.

At a meeting in Beijing on Tuesday, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov reinforced calls for their two countries to work more closely together against “hegemonism”.

Kim met Vladimir Putin during a visit to Russia last September, and the Russian president is expected to pay a reciprocal visit to Pyongyang this year.