SEOUL (AFP, REUTERS) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un personally greeted a top Chinese official in Pyongyang and called for stronger ties with Beijing, state media said on Sunday (April 15), 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 attend a spring festival in the North's capital.
The delegation arrived just weeks after Kim made a surprise visit to Beijing and met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, signalling an attempt by both leaders to shore up a key alliance ahead of a period of high-stakes diplomacy.
The North Korean leader on Saturday “warmly” greeted Song and the Chinese delegation visiting Pyongyang to perform, the North’s official Korea Central News Agency said.
“He said with deep emotion that the Chinese comrades accorded cordial hospitality to him with utmost sincerity in token of warm comradely friendship during his recent unforgettable visit to China,” the KCNA said.
In late March, Kim made a rare visit to Beijing and met Xi, Kim’s first known journey abroad since he took power in 2011.
Song is leading a Chinese art troupe attending a spring art festival in Pyongyang 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.
The art troupe performed on Saturday at the Mansudae Art Theatre, and the North Korean leader Kim’s wife Ri Sol Ju watched a ballet “Giselle,” performed by the National Ballet of China, but Kim was not present, the KCNA said.
At the meeting with Song, Kim also said the warm welcome was“due obligation and behavior of the host and close friend for him,” and would offer “all conditions for the Chinese art troupe at the highest level and on a top-priority basis,” according to the KCNA.
That contrasts with Song’s last visit to Pyongyang last November, when he was sent as Xi’s special enjoy to discuss the outcome of China’s 19th Party Congress. Song returned to Beijing without meeting Kim.
Kim and Song also exchanged their views on deepening the bilateral relations, the KCNA said.
Kim said he would develop their friendship into a “fresh phase of development as required by a new era by further strengthening of the bilateral relations.”
Kim is expected to hold summits with South Korean President Moon Jae In this month (April) 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, where Song conveyed Xi's "warm greetings".
"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 backed 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".