North Korean Kim Jong-un leader met a Chinese delegation accompanying an art troupe visiting Pyongyang, in the latest gesture of rapprochement between the two countries following years of tension, state media reported on Sunday. North Korea's ties with China, its sole ally, had become strained over the past couple of years over the North's contentious missile and nuclear tests.
The North Korean regime is witnessing a period of intense diplomatic activity ahead of the historic summits it will hold with South Korea and the U.S. this spring to discuss sensitive matters including denuclearization.
The Chinese art troupe, led by Song, the head of the Communist Party's International Department, left for North Korea on Friday for an April Spring Friendship Art Festival. On Saturday, the National Ballet of China staged a performance of "Giselle" at the Mansudae Art Theatre in Pyongyang.
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The KCNA said that Kim and Song had in-depth discussions and exchanged views on the "important matters" of mutual concern and the global situation.
"According to the report, Kim expressed satisfaction with the meeting, saying he will "take the North Korea-China friendship to a whole new level, in line with new generational demands" by strengthening exchanges between high-level officials as well as cooperation and visits in various sectors".
Song also suggested that Seoul, Beijing, and Moscow establish a cooperative body to effectively develop border areas after peace settles on the Korean Peninsula. North Korean media has since been lauding ties with China, a move that local analysts believe is Pyongyang's effort to build negotiating power with the United States when Kim meets President Donald Trump in May or June for the first summit between a North Korean and American leader. 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.