China's President Xi expresses support for North Korea's shift to focus on economy

Pak Thae Song, member of North Korea's Political Bureau and vice-chairman of its Central Committee, shakes hands with Chinese Ambassador to North Korea Li Jinjun on May 15, 2018.
Pak Thae Song, member of North Korea's Political Bureau and vice-chairman of its Central Committee, shakes hands with Chinese Ambassador to North Korea Li Jinjun on May 15, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING - President Xi Jinping has expressed support for North Korea's avowed new shift to focus on economic development, along with improving relations with South Korea, during his meeting with a high-level delegation from North Korea's ruling Worker's Party.

"We support the improvement of North-South (Korean) relations, the promotion of dialogue between North Korea and the US, denuclearisation on the peninsula and North Korea's development of its economy," Mr Xi was quoted as saying by state broadcaster CCTV.

He met the delegation led by Pak Thae Song, vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, on Wednesday.

At his meeting with Mr Xi, Mr Pak said he had been entrusted with consolidating recent agreements between his leader Kim Jong Un and Xi as well as studying China's model of economic development and "reform and opening".

"We will play an active role in carrying out our party's new strategic line of prioritising economic development," Pak was quoted as saying by Xinhua news agency.

According to the NK Pro leadership tracker, Mr Pak regularly attends events or guidance visits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with the most recent mention coming on Feb 2 when he went with the young leader to the Kumunsan Palace of the Sun.

The delegation began their visit to China on Monday, a week after the North Korean leader flew to the Chinese city of Dalian to meet Mr Xi. It was their second summit and followed Mr Kim's surprise visit to Beijing in late March.

Mr Pak was accompanied by senior party officials representing major provinces and cities of North Korea, reported Yonhap news agency.

In its report of the delegation's trip to China, the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in an English report:"Welcoming the friendship group's visit to China, Xi Jinping said that China is attaching very importance to the work to propel the traditional friendship between the two countries sealed in blood to a higher stage as required by the new era."

"He noted with pleasure that he met Chairman Kim Jong Un two times and exchanged the comprehensive and detailed views on the matters of concern including the development of the relations between the two parties and the two countries and the regional and international situation," it added.

North Korea's founder Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of Kim Jong Un, fought alongside communist forces during the Chinese civil war. China soon emerged as its most important ally, sending soldiers to fight in the 1950-1953 Korean War as a way to keep the conflict away from its border.

Since arriving on Monday, the North Koreans have reportedly toured major industrial and economic areas, including the Zhongguancun High-tech Zone, known as China's Silicon Valley, reported Yonhap news agency.

According to sources, they also met Song Tao, head of the international liaison department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party on Monday, during which the Chinese official proposed increasing cooperation and exchanges between the two countries in diverse areas including agriculture, education and science technology.

In his meeting with Xi last week, Kim registered his desire for Chinese support in the talks, particularly his call for a "phased and synchronous" approach to denuclearisation, as opposed to the US' demand for an immediate end to its nuclear programme, reported Associated Press.

China is North Korea's most important economic partner and has long sought to convince its neighbour to follow Beijing's path of enacting free market reforms while maintaining tight single-party rule.