China’s vice foreign minister met his North Korean counterpart in Pyongyang on Friday, with the nuclear-armed state accelerating its weapons testing and threats toward Seoul in recent months.
Beijing is North Korea’s biggest economic benefactor and a traditional ally, and leader Kim Jong-un has sought to shore up his country’s relationship with China while intensifying his aggressive rhetoric toward the South. The weapons tests and Kim’s designation of Seoul earlier this month as the North’s “principal enemy” have raised tensions in the region and led South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol to pull closer to long-standing ally Washington.
The United States has also warned of “growing and dangerous” military ties between Pyongyang and Moscow and called on Beijing to restrain the North. On Friday, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said “the Foreign Ministry delegation of the People’s Republic of China, headed by Comrade Sun Weidong, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, arrived in Pyongyang on the 25th.”
AFP photos showed Sun and his delegation meeting with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Pak Myong-ho and others at the People’s Palace of Culture in the capital. Pak greeted Sun with a smile as the Chinese vice foreign minister entered a room in the venue in the North Korean capital.
While the two were shaking hands, photographers at the scene captured the moment, causing the sound of camera flashes to fill the air, AFP videos showed. The members of the Chinese delegation were seen taking notes during the meeting, the footage showed, as they sat across from their North Korean counterparts in a spacious room adorned with a large painting of a wooded valley, with each participant provided a water bottle and a glass.
Sun’s visit comes as US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan was set to meet Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Friday and Saturday in Thailand, as the two powers seek to improve relations after years of tensions. Earlier this month, Kim said Pyongyang and Beijing had designated 2024 as the “year of DPRK-China friendship,” using the acronym of the North’s official name.
The two countries “will further promote exchange and visits in all fields, including politics, economy and culture” this year, and add “a new page to the history of the DPRK-China relations,” Kim said in his message to Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to KCNA. His rhetoric toward the South has been a stark contrast with Kim declaring Seoul his country’s “principal enemy”, and jettisoning agencies dedicated to reunification and outreach.
He also threatened war over “even 0.001 mm” of territorial infringement. Seoul, Tokyo and Washington have held joint military exercises against the growing North Korean threats, while Beijing last year sent senior officials to attend Pyongyang’s military parades.
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