North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to further strengthen relations between North Korea and China.
South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported, Kim shared a letter with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, in which Kim pledged to “further consolidate and develop the traditional DPRK-China friendly relations.” Kim’s letter was first reported by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Tuesday.
Kim reportedly sent the letter on Monday, in reply to a letter Xi shared with Kim, congratulating him on the 75th anniversary of the founding of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party.
In his letter, Xi expressed China’s intent to “defend, consolidate and develop” the existing relations between China and North Korea.
According to Yonhap News Agency, China is North Korea’s most important trade partner, and Beijing has previously provided Pyongyang with access to food, weapons and fuel.
While North Korea has faced an array of international sanctions, China has in the past provided Pyongyang with a market for North Korean goods, allowing it to generate income despite those sanctions. China, along with Russia, has also advocated for the United Nations to lift sanctions from North Korea.
Trade between China and North Korea continued until January of 2020, when North Korea cut off trade with its partner in China, out of concern over the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Reports from North Korea have shown the country maintaining strict lockdown measures, using military forces to block cross-border travel to and from China. Throughout the pandemic lockdowns, however, North Korea has reportedly still sought some aid from China. In March, North Korea reportedly placed a rush order for medical supplies such as masks, disinfectants and quarantine suits from China.
In a June report, a Chinese dockworker said he and other workers at a Chinese port had been quietly loading shipments of grain going to North Korea. China has maintained secrecy about its shipments to North Korea, but it is believed China has been sending food to North Korea to combat food shortages in the country.
While North Korea has claimed it has had no cases of coronavirus, existing sanctions and food shortages in the country had reportedly been exacerbated by North Korea’s decision to maintain strict lockdown measures.
Tomás Ojea Quintana, the U.N. Special Rapporteur for human rights in North Korea, said North Korea’s lockdown measures have had “a devastating impact on trade which has increased widespread food insecurity, the risk of starvation, and had a negative impact on an undernourished population, in particular children.”
In a rare moment during Kim’s Oct. 10 speech celebrating the 75th anniversary of the ruling North Korean party’s founding, Kim appeared to cry and apologized to the North Korean people for the hardships the country has faced in 2020.
“Our people have placed trust, as high as the sky and as deep as the sea, in me, but I have failed to always live up to it satisfactorily. I am really sorry for that,” Kim said. “Although I am entrusted with the important responsibility to lead this country upholding the cause of the great Comrades Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il thanks to the trust of all the people, my efforts and sincerity have not been sufficient enough to rid our people of the difficulties in their lives.”
It was unclear how Kim and Xi’s recent mutual vows of support would move to strengthen North Korea-China relations.