Following a series of articles on the interaction between Seoul and Beijing, it is worth examining what the communication between Beijing and Pyongyang has looked like.
Kim and Xi have constantly exchanged personal messages. For example, on March 23, 2021 Kim Jong-un sent a verbal personal message to Xi Jinping, informing him about the 8th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea and calling for closer strategic communication and unity with China to combat “hostile forces.” For his part, Xi Jinping told the North Korean leader that he was ready to cooperate with him to preserve peace on the Korean peninsula.
On July 1, 2021, Kim Jong-un pledged to take relations with China to a new strategic level with a congratulatory message to Xi Jinping to mark the 100th anniversary of the CPC. On July 11, the leaders of North Korea and China exchanged messages again on the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance: Kim Jong-un said their relationship was vital in the face of hostile foreign forces, while Xi promised to take cooperation to the next stage.
On July 24, the North Korean leader expressed his condolences to the Chinese President over the damage caused by the floods. Kim expressed his full support for Xi and the Chinese people in dealing with the consequences of the disaster.
On July 28, 2021, on the occasion of the 68th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, Kim Jong-un visited the Friendship Monument, expressing “deep respect for the fallen soldiers of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army who gave precious lives in our nation’s Fatherland Liberation War to repel imperialist aggression.”
On July 30, in a response to earlier letters, Xi Jinping pledged to make efforts to protect, strengthen and develop relations with North Korea.
On September 9, 2021, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to make efforts to develop relations with North Korea in messages sent to leader Kim Jong-un on the 73rd anniversary of the founding of the DPRK.
On September 25, Kim Jong-un responded to Xi’s congratulations and said his country’s strong relationship with China would continue to develop in spite of “vicious challenges and obstacles from hostile forces.”
On October 1, in a message to Xi Jinping to mark the 72nd anniversary of China’s founding, Kim Jong-un pledged to support China’s fight against the “hostile forces’ frantic anti-China confrontational moves.”
On February 22, 2022, Kim Jong-un sent a verbal message to Xi Jinping on the success of hosting the Winter Olympics in Beijing. On February 26, Xi Jinping expressed his gratitude in return and his hope for the development of friendly relations between the two countries.
On July 29, 2022, the anniversary of the end of the Korean War, Kim Jong-un visited the Friendship Monument again and said that the “sealed in blood” ties between the two countries would continue to develop for future generations.
In September 2022, the two sides exchanged letters again on the founding of the DPRK, with Kim Jong-un stressing that relations between the two sides would continue to develop “despite the heinous isolation and blockade by hostile forces and the global health crisis.”
A similar trend exists at a lower level. On April 15, 2021, North Korea’s new ambassador to China presented his credentials to the Chinese President. Ri Ryong-nam, 61, was appointed ambassador in February 2021 and is known for his long experience in trade and economics, having served as Minister of Trade in 2008 and as Minister of External Economic Relations until 2016.
On May 27, 2021, during the meeting between Ri Ryong-nam and Wang Yi, the Chinese Foreign Minister noted that China is ready to work with the DPRK to implement the important agreements reached by the two leaders, work for the good of the two peoples and make a positive contribution to peace and stability in the region. For his part, Ri Ryong-nam said the DPRK intends to strengthen its traditional friendship with China and promote mutually beneficial cooperation.
On June 21, 2021, the Rodong Sinmun ran an article by Chinese Ambassador Li Jinjun stating that China and North Korea should expand their communication, look ahead, strengthen strategic communications and enhance cooperation on working levels. The PRC media published a similar article by Ri Ryong-nam.
Marking the 61st anniversary of the signing of the Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance between North Korea and China, Pyongyang described its relations with Beijing as “unbreakable.” The meetings and talks held between the two leaders in recent years have “demonstrated the great unity between the two countries, … that can withstand any storm,” according to an article published by the Rodong Sinmun on July 11, 2022.
On August 1, 2022, DPRK Minister of Defense Ri Yong-gil congratulated his counterpart Wei Fenghe on the 95th anniversary of the founding of the PLA. In his speech, he noted that the warriors of the two countries had once fought shoulder to shoulder for a common cause, and expressed the hope that military cooperation would be further strengthened.
It is worth separately noting the statements of mutual support – the PRC speaks out in defense of the DPRK’s position on the Korean Peninsula Nuclear Issue, the DPRK supports the PRC on integrity and human rights issues.
On March 7, 2022, Wang Yi said North Korea’s reasonable security concerns remain unresolved, and where the next stage will go depends largely on how the US acts – whether Washington takes concrete action to resolve the problem or continues to try to use it as a “geopolitical strategic card,” he added.
Wang pointed out that since 2018, North Korea has taken “affirmative action” as part of efforts to restart talks, but has not received “adequate reward” from the US. The diplomat urged Washington to take action to allay the North’s security fears and build mutual trust.
On May 1, 2022, Liu Xiaoming, Special Representative of the Chinese Government on Korean Peninsula Affairs, arrived in Seoul. Asked by reporters on his arrival in Seoul about his stance on nuclear threats from the North, Liu noted the need to take into account the security of each country. The root cause of the hostility between the US and North Korea is the deep mistrust between them, he said, and a meaningful and sincere dialogue is needed to address this mistrust. “We object to any hostile act which will escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula. We hope we will find ways to lower tensions in Korean Peninsula issues through consultations with the South.”
On May 30, 2022, in an article, Deputy Minister Park Meng-ho expressed full support for the global security initiative put forward by Xi Jinping at the 2022 Boao Forum for Asia in April, calling the proposal “a manifestation of the will of the Chinese Party and government to actively contribute to a just international security system.”
There are articles in the DPRK’s media such as “Entirely exposed US anti-Chinese manipulative propaganda,” supporting the PRC’s course in Xinjiang.
On August 3, 2022, a Spokesperson for the DPRK Foreign Ministry commented on US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, “The situation shows that it is the brazen US interference in domestic affairs and its deliberate political and military provocation that is the main source of disruption of peace and security in the region. Taiwan is an integral part of China, and the Taiwan issue is a domestic affair in China.”
On August 6, Jo Yong Sam, Director General of the Department of Press and Information at DPRK’s Foreign Ministry, pointed out that Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Asia “clearly shows the anti-Korean hostile political viewpoint of the current US administration,” noting that she is “a gross violator of global peace and stability, who during her visit to Ukraine in April this year, stirred up anti-Russian confrontational sentiment, and this time visited Taiwan and provoked the anger of the Chinese people.”
Certain constructive measures are present when dealing with practical issues. The PRC is catching fugitive criminals from the North. In November 2021, police captured a North Korean prisoner who had made a daring escape from prison and had been on the run for more than forty days after he was due to be deported back to the North for illegal entry into China, theft and robbery. In May 2022, it was reported that a number of North Korean defectors were arrested in the Chinese city of Dandong after they crossed the border.
For its part, North Korea is believed to be postponing a nuclear weapons test until after the upcoming CPC Congress.
Thus, relations between Pyongyang and Beijing continue to progress at an accelerated pace, and it is a good sign that a train of more than ten freight wagons once again passed over the Friendship Bridge across the Amnok River on September 26. A source in China told Yonhap News Agency that from now on the trains will run once or twice a day. Rail traffic between North Korea and China was suspended on April 29 this year after a quarantine was imposed in Dandong, China, due to the spread of Covid-19. The renewal of traffic is an indication of the further development of relations between the two countries.
Konstantin Asmolov, PhD in History, leading research fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of China and Modern Asia, the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.