Top China leader meets North Korea’s Kim amid rising tensions with US

China’s top legislator Zhao Leji met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang, expressing Beijing’s willingness to work with its counterparts to deepen trust and boost cooperation, Chinese state media said.

Zhao, finishing a goodwill tour that began on Thursday, is the highest-ranking Chinese official to visit the North since 2018, when Li Zhanshu attended the 70th anniversary of the North’s founding.

Zhao is China’s third highest-ranking official, behind President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang.

China is North Korea’s most important economic benefactor and diplomatic ally, obstructing US-led efforts at the UN Security Council alongside Russia to impose stricter sanctions on Kim’s government in response to its increased weapons tests.

“No matter how the international situation changes, the traditional friendship between China and the DPRK, created and nurtured by the older generation of leaders from both parties and countries, remains deep-rooted and strong over time,” Zhao said in a speech, according to China’s Xinhua news agency.

DPRK refers to the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Consistent ties

Zhao Leji also said it is Beijing’s consistent strategic policy to defend and develop friendly relations between China and North Korea, North Korean state media KCNA said.

Pyongyang has been seeking to expand diplomatic exchanges with its main political ally after lifting Covid restrictions.

In the speech at the opening ceremony for China-DPRK Friendship Year, Zhao noted that the two countries’ top leaders have met five times in recent years.

South Korean local media reports said this week that Zhao’s trip could include planning for Kim’s next potential state visit to Beijing.

North Korea’s rhetoric towards the South has been in stark contrast to the friendly relations with Beijing.

This year, Kim has declared Seoul his country’s “principal enemy”, jettisoned agencies dedicated to reunification and outreach, and threatened war over “even 0.001 mm” of territorial infringement.

China’s state-run news agency Xinhua said Friday that Zhao and his North Korean counterpart Choe Ryong Hae discussed the “situation on the Korean peninsula”, and Zhao expressed Beijing’s willingness to “intensify legislative exchanges and cooperation”.