SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met Chinese senior diplomat Song Tao and feted a Chinese art troupe led by Song, North Korean state media said on Sunday, indicating closer ties with China after Kim’s surprise visit to Beijing last month.
The North Korean leader on Saturday “warmly” greeted Song Tao and the Chinese delegation visiting Pyongyang to perform and also expressed his greetings to Chinese President Xi Jinping after Song conveyed Xi’s greetings to Kim, the North’s official Korea Central News Agency said.
“He said with deep emotion that the Chinese comrades accorded cordial hospitality to him with utmost sincerity in token of warm comradely friendship during his recent unforgettable visit to China,” the KCNA said.
In late March Kim made a rare visit to Beijing and met Xi, Kim’s first known journey abroad since he took power in 2011.
Footage broadcast on Chinese state television on Sunday evening showed Kim greeting Song with a warm hug and the pair later dining in a large hall adorned with a giant picture of Kim and Xi together last month.
Song told Kim that he intended his visit to help to advance the two leaders’ consensus in developing this “new phase” of bilateral relations and in making contributions toward safeguarding peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, according to the television report.
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.
The troupe performed on Saturday at the Mansudae Art Theatre, and North Korean leader Kim’s wife Ri Sol Ju watched a ballet, “Giselle”, performed by the National Ballet of China, but Kim was not present, the KCNA said.
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.
Song and Kim also exchanged their views on deepening bilateral relations, the KCNA said, with Kim saying he would develop their friendship into a “fresh phase of development”.
(Reporting By Jane Chung; Additional reporting by Philip Wen in Beijing; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and David Goodman)