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PYONGYANG: This picture released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency shows China's top lawmaker Zhao Leji (left) signing the guest book during a visit to the Friendship Tower in Pyongyang on April 12, 2024. — AFP
PYONGYANG: This picture released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency shows China's top lawmaker Zhao Leji (left) signing the guest book during a visit to the Friendship Tower in Pyongyang on April 12, 2024. — AFP

N Korea’s Kim, Chinese official hail ‘new chapter’ of ties

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and China’s top legislator hailed a “new chapter” of Beijing-Pyongyang relations on Saturday, in one of the most high-level meetings between the allies in years. Beijing’s third highest-ranking official Zhao Leji — a member of the powerful Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo — made a goodwill visit to the nuclear-armed North this week as the two countries mark 75 years of diplomatic ties.

China is North Korea’s most important economic benefactor and diplomatic ally, obstructing US-led efforts at the UN Security Council alongside Russia to impose stricter sanctions on Kim Jong Un’s government in response to its increased weapons tests.

Zhao met Kim on Saturday, after attending an opening ceremony on Friday for the “year of China-Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Friendship” in Pyongyang on Friday, according to Beijing’s state news agency Xinhua. Zhao told Kim that China is “willing to strengthen development linkage and deepen bilateral cooperation with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” according to Xinhua, using the North’s official name.

Zhao told Kim that China is willing to “promote bilateral practical and mutually beneficial cooperation to achieve new results, to continue to give strong mutual support and to safeguard the common interests of both sides”. Kim in turn told Zhao the North was keen to “deepen the traditional friendship and write a new chapter in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea-China relations,” according to Xinhua. A photo published by Xinhua showed Zhao and Kim smiling and shaking hands. Zhao is China’s third highest-ranking official, behind President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang.

‘Eternal friendship’

Zhao earlier emphasized the need to “open up a new chapter of China-DPRK friendship along with the times”, in a speech at the opening ceremony on Friday, which he attended alongside North Korean counterpart Choe Ryong Hae, according to North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency.

North Korea’s Choe said on Friday that the two countries’ relationship “has greeted a new heyday under the wise leadership” of their leaders, KCNA said. Choe and Zhao were seen sitting next to each other watching performances by what KCNA said were “prestigious art troupes” of the two nations at the East Pyongyang Grand Theatre, AFP footage showed.

Some performers wore colorful traditional Korean and Chinese garments, and what appeared to be the final moment of the event highlighted a massive image of the countries’ flags, accompanied by the phrase “eternal friendship”.

South Korean local media reports said this week that Zhao’s trip could include planning for Kim’s next potential state visit to Beijing. Kim last met President Xi in 2019 before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, making the Pyongyang meeting between Zhao and Choe one of the most high-level meetings in years. The Chinese delegation was seen off by senior North Korean officials as they boarded their plane departing Pyongyang on Saturday, Xinhua said.

North Korea’s rhetoric towards the South has been in stark contrast to the friendly relations with Beijing. This year, Kim has declared Seoul his country’s “principal enemy”, jettisoned agencies dedicated to reunification and outreach, and threatened war over “even 0.001 mm” of territorial infringement.

China’s state-run news agency Xinhua said Friday that Zhao and Choe discussed the “situation on the Korean peninsula”, and Zhao expressed Beijing’s willingness to “intensify legislative exchanges and cooperation”. — AFP

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