Asia Pacific / Politics

Xi says China hopes to promote ties with North Korea

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

Newly empowered Chinese President Xi Jinping has reached out to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in an apparent bid to promote stable ties with the isolated country days ahead of a visit to the region by U.S. President Donald Trump, the official Korean Central News Agency said Thursday.

Xi was replying to a congratulatory message from Kim on the successful conclusion of the Chinese Communist Party’s twice-a-decade congress last week, where the Chinese leader was widely seen as cementing his grip on power.

“I wish that under the new situation the Chinese side would make efforts with the DPRK side to promote the relations between the two parties and the two countries to sustainable soundness and stable development and thus make a positive contribution to … defending regional peace and stability and common prosperity,” Xi wrote in the message, dated Wednesday, according to the KCNA dispatch.

The rare message between the two leaders came amid chilly ties between Beijing — the North’s main ally — and Pyongyang, which this year has conducted a spate of missile tests and unleashed its most powerful nuclear test to date.

While Xi has previously sent messages to Kim, most recently when Xi expressed his congratulations for a party congress in North Korea last year, the two leaders have not visited each other’s countries since coming to power.

China’s close ties to the North have been strained since leader Kim ordered the execution in 2013 of his uncle Jang Song-thaek, who had been the key conduit between the two countries. Jang, who had been a strong proponent of Chinese-style economic liberalizations to reboot the moribund North Korean economy, was executed on charges of treason.

Since then, Beijing and Pyongyang — famously characterized as being “close as lips and teeth” — have moved even further apart after China joined the U.S., Japan, South Korea and others in ramping up the toughest United Nations sanctions to date.

Trump, who has previously asked China to do more on the North Korean nuclear issue, is expected to further push Beijing to tighten the screws on Pyongyang during his Asia trip.

The American leader had initially slammed China for not doing enough but thanked Xi in late September for ramping up pressure on the North.

Pyongyang has reacted furiously this courting of China by the U.S. president.

“These brownnosing words are utterly sickening and disgusting,” KCNA said in an English-language commentary Tuesday.

“Trump’s wild outbursts are just the hysteric spasmodic symptom of his discomfort and fear after finding that his strategy does not work on the DPRK and the DPRK is getting stronger, instead,” it added, using the formal name for North Korea.

“Incompetent ones are apt to make a false show of power,” the commentary went on. “Now [it] is high time that the U.S. pondered over the might of the DPRK’s state nuclear force.”