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In rare direct message, North Korea’s Kim congratulates China’s Xi on re-election as president

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has sent a congratulatory message to China’s Xi Jinping on his re-election as president, state-run media said Sunday, in a rare direct message between the two Asian leaders.

Sunday’s statement run by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Kim had “warmly congratulated” Xi in a message sent Saturday that expressed the North Korean leader’s hopes that China will make even greater achievements “with Xi Jinping at the core.”

“Expressing belief that the bilateral relations would develop in the common interests of the peoples of the two countries, the message wished the Chinese president big success in his responsible work,” KCNA quoted Kim as saying in the message.

Kim has yet to meet Xi — or any other foreign leader — since assuming power in 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il.

China supported North Korea during the 1950-1953 Korean War, and has since regarded it as a strategic buffer against South Korea, where the U.S. military stations some 28,500 troops. It has long wielded influence as its neighbor’s main economic lifeline.

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But relations between the two have soured in recent years after North Korea’s repeated tests of nuclear weapons and advanced missiles, which have sparked condemnation across the globe.

In response to the outcry, China has offered its strongest support to date of United Nations sanctions against the increasingly isolated North.

Chinese state media also reported the message Sunday, but did not say if Xi had responded. The two exchanged greetings late last year following the end of China’s twice-a-decade Communist Party Congress.

The message comes after Kim, in a series of stunning moves, extended invitations to meet with the U.S. and South Korean presidents.

U.S. President Donald Trump accepted an invitation earlier this month to meet Kim by the end of May, as the two historic adversaries attempt to reach a deal on the issue of scrapping the North’s nuclear weapons program.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, meanwhile, was to meet Kim at the heavily fortified border next month in the truce village of Panmunjom.

Media reports citing high-level government officials have also said that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is exploring the possibility of meeting the North Korean leader.

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It is unclear if Xi is also considering such a summit.

Xi was unanimously reappointed as Chinese president Saturday by the country’s largely rubber-stamp parliament, with state-run media gushing Sunday that he was a “leader loved and respected by the people” and “helmsman of the country.”

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© 2018 the Japan Times (Tokyo)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.