Xi calls for stronger relations between China and North Korea

Ties between long-time allies strained by North Korean nuclear programme

Chinese president Xi Jinping: said there was a need for “defending regional peace, stability and common prosperity”. Photograph: Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images

Chinese president Xi Jinping: said there was a need for “defending regional peace, stability and common prosperity”. Photograph: Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images

 

President Xi Jinping has called for stronger ties between China and North Korea after months of tension in the relationship between the two ideological allies over the North’s nuclear weapons programme.

Mr Xi’s message was in response to a congratulatory message last week from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un over Mr Xi being named as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party for a second term.

“I wish that under the new situation, the Chinese side will make joint efforts with the North Korean side to promote relations and the sustainable soundness and stable development of the relations between the two nations,” Mr Xi was quoted as saying by the North Korean official news agency KCNA.

He said there was a need for “defending regional peace, stability and common prosperity”.

The message came shortly before US president Donald Trump was due to arrive for his first Asian visit, which includes stops in both South Korea and China, and is in sharp contrast to some of the dialogue between Mr Trump and Mr Kim. The US leader has called Mr Kim “Rocket Man”, while Mr Kim labelled Mr Trump a “mentally deranged US dotard”.

China fought with North Korea against the US in the Korean War (1950-53) and has long been a supporter of its neighbour. However, relations have become strained because of North Korea’s nuclear programme, which threatens regional stability.

Tougher penalties

Mr Trump has frequently demanded that Beijing do more to rein in North Korea, while the Chinese say they want dialogue to resolve the issue. Initially resistant to backing UN sanctions against North Korea, Beijing is now backing tougher penalties against Pyongyang including a new round of sanctions targeting coal, seafood and textiles.

Since last week’s Communist Party congress, Mr Xi’s position as Chinese leader has been greatly reinforced and he has been making several overtones to regional powers to boost relations, including South Korea. This week China agreed with South Korea to end their row over the deployment of the US Thaad missile defence system.

Mr Kim sent a message to Mr Xi after the congress saying China had taken the “road of building socialism with Chinese characteristics” with Mr Xi at the core.

Despite the strong historical and trade links between the two countries, Mr Xi has never visited North Korea and the Chinese leadership is said to be angered by Pyongyang’s insistence on following a nuclear programme.

China has tried to play honest broker role in the crisis. While it opposes the nuclear programme, it does not wish for regime change in the North Korea, which could bring US influence right to its borders.

Mr Trump’s five-nation tour of Asia begins in Tokyo, before going on to Seoul, Beijing, Vietnam and the Philippines.