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Kim Jong-un meets China’s top legislator Zhao to deepen bilateral ties

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, right, meets with Zhao Leji, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress of China, in Pyongyang on Saturday. [YONHAP]
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, right, meets with Zhao Leji, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China, in Pyongyang on Saturday. [YONHAP]

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met with Zhao Leji, China’s No. 3 official, and discussed ways to deepen bilateral ties, the state-run Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) said Sunday.

Kim and Zhao, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, met for a luncheon Saturday after the top Chinese legislator met with Choe Ryong-hae, chairman of the Standing Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea, on Saturday.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between North Korea and China. Kim designated it as “a year of DPRK-China friendship” and said that Zhao’s visit “is of very weighty significance” in demonstrating the “invincibility” of Pyongyang-Beijing relations and “further developing the traditional friendly and cooperative relations between the two countries as required by the times.”

Kim and Zhao discussed the “issue of boosting the multifaceted exchange and cooperation for developing the friendly and cooperative relations dear to the two parties and two countries into more viable ties” and other issues of mutual concern, according to the KCNA.

Kim affirmed his “invariable and steadfast policy” to develop the long-standing North Korea-China relations and expressed expectations that the two governments will “dynamically promote the socialist cause” and develop “this durable tradition of friendship.”

Zhao and the Chinese government also emphasized the friendship between Pyongyang and Beijing, saying that more high-level meetings would take place this year to mark the 75th anniversary of establishing diplomatic ties between the two countries.

“The traditional friendship between our two countries was created and carefully nurtured by the leaders for a long time,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said through a press release. “It is our unchanging strategic policy to place great importance on friendly and cooperative relations with North Korea and to develop even firmer bilateral ties.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said high-level exchanges between Pyongyang and Beijing will be enhanced, adding that such exchanges will be to “deepen mutually beneficial cooperation.”

Choe also stressed the “unshakable will to further develop the traditional relations of friendship and cooperation with socialism as the core” during his meeting with Zhao on Saturday, according to the KCNA.

Zhao arrived in Pyongyang on Thursday for a three-day visit, marking the first high-ranking Chinese visit to North Korea since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

North Korea resumed exchanges with China in a limited manner after partially reopening its border in August last year after strict border shutdowns during the pandemic.

“North Korea appears to be strengthening its ‘camp diplomacy’ through close contact with China, its traditional ally along with Russia,” said Oh Gyeong-seob, a researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification. “While the meeting between Kim and Zhao is to respond to the strengthened cooperation between South Korea, the United States and Japan, there is also an aspect of them trying to show off their presence with the U.S. presidential election in November coming up.”

China recently abstained from voting regarding the extension of the mandate on the UN Security Council panel of experts monitoring sanctions against North Korea. With Russia vetoing the resolution, the panel will expire on April 30, weakening the UN sanctions regime.

BY LIM JEONG-WON, SHIN KYUNG-JIN [lim.jeongwon@joongang.co.kr]