This December 12, 2017 picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on December 13, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un attending the 8th Conference of Munitions Industry in Pyongyang. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS / – / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT —EDITORS NOTE— RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – MANDATORY CREDIT “AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS” – NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS – DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS.THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP. /
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un personally greeted a top Chinese official in Pyongyang and called for stronger ties with Beijing, state media said Sunday, as the traditional allies seek to heal battered relations.
Kim met Song Tao, head of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee’s international department, who was leading an art troupe to a spring festival in the North’s capital.
The delegation arrived just weeks after Kim made a surprise visit to Beijing and met Chinese President Xi Jinping, signalling an attempt by both leaders to shore up a key alliance ahead of a period of high-stakes diplomacy.
Kim is expected to hold summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in this month and US President Donald Trump in the following weeks.
The North’s official KCNA news agency said Kim welcomed Song and his delegation in a meeting on Saturday at which Song conveyed Xi’s “warm greetings”.
The two exchanged “profound views on the important matters of mutual concern” and the international situation, KCNA said, without providing details.
“The Supreme Leader said that he would positively carry forward and develop the traditional DPRK-China friendship into a fresh phase of development as required by a new era,” it added, using the North’s official acronym.
Beijing is North Korea’s sole major ally, an alliance dating back to the 1950-1953 Korean War, but relations deteriorated after China supported United Nations sanctions to punish Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons programme.
More high-level exchanges and cooperation will follow between Beijing and Pyongyang, the report cited Kim as saying.
In response, Song vowed to make “a fresh contribution to promoting the prolonged and stable development of the China-DPRK relations”.
Kim also hosted a banquet for the Chinese delegation, in which officials from the two sides toasted to their shared will “to more beautifully decorate the flower garden of the DPRK-China friendship”.
Photos carried by the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper showed Chinese and North Korean officials in a massive banqueting hall with a mural of Kim and Xi shaking hands decorating one wall.
Another photo showed a North Korean orchestra performing with a large picture of Xi projected in the background.
Song is leading a Chinese art troupe attending a spring art festival held as part of the commemorations for the anniversary of the birth of the North’s founder Kim Il Sung on April 15, 1912.
Both North Korean and foreign artists take part, and this year’s week-long event includes concerts, dance performances and acrobatics.
KCNA also issued a rare separate report on Kim’s wife who attended a performance by the Chinese art troupe on Saturday in the absence of her husband.
“First Lady Ri Sol Ju enjoyed a ballet choreodrama ‘Giselle’ given by the National Ballet of China,” KCNA reported, adding she held “friendly talk” with the guests ahead of the performance.
China has sent art troupes to every festival since 1986, except in 2016.
Pyongyang’s frenetic diplomatic activity marks a stunning turnaround after a year of high tensions which saw the North carry out nuclear and missile tests, further isolating the regime and triggering a fiery war of words with Trump.
Kim sent a high-profile delegation to the Winter Olympic Games in the South in February, setting off a flurry of cross-border exchanges of athletes, cheerleaders and officials.
In the latest such exchanges, officials from the two Koreas met Saturday at the North’s side of the Demilitarized Zone to discuss setting up a hotline between their leaders, Seoul’s presidential office said Sunday.
The two sides will hold another working-level meeting on Wednesday to agree on protocol, security measures and media coverage of the April 27 summit.