Both Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping emphasize N. Korea-China relations during 8th WPK Congress
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In its response, the Congress said that all members of the WPK would "exert themselves to consolidate the DPRK-China friendship."
In his summary of foreign relations, Kim mentioned relations with China first and at the greatest length. In the report, he was quoted as saying, "By prioritizing the long-standing and special DPRK-China relations, our Party [. . .] opened a new chapter in the DPRK-China relations of friendship." His use of the terms "long-standing" and "special" carries even more weight when compared with his reference to "the traditional DPRK-Russia relations."
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One notable development during the recent 8th Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Congress was the close communication between North Korea and China.
On Jan. 11, Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory message on Kim Jong-un’s election as general secretary of the WPK. The Rodong Sinmun, an organ of the WPK Central Committee, devoted major coverage to Xi’s message, which it published in full on the second page of its Jan. 12 edition.
Also printed on the same page was the full text of the WPK Congress’ reply to a congratulatory message sent by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. The Rodong Sinmun previously devoted a whole page in its Jan. 6 edition to the full text of the CCP Central Committee’s message.
In its response, the Congress said that all members of the WPK would “exert themselves to consolidate the DPRK-China friendship.”
Xi also wrote in his congratulatory message to Kim that it was the “steadfast policy of the Chinese Party and government to successfully protect, consolidate and develop China-DPRK relations.”
The sequence of events — from the CCP Central Committee’s message to the Congress’ reply (on Jan. 11) and Xi’s congratulatory message (also Jan. 11) — suggests a relatively enthusiastic attitude on China’s part. But North Korea’s response has also been wholehearted. Kim Jong-un’s particular emphasis on North Korea-China relations was clearly evident in a three-day “report on the work of the 7th Central Committee of the WPK” on Jan. 5-7.
In his summary of foreign relations, Kim mentioned relations with China first and at the greatest length. In the report, he was quoted as saying, “By prioritizing the long-standing and special DPRK-China relations, our Party [. . .] opened a new chapter in the DPRK-China relations of friendship.” His use of the terms “long-standing” and “special” carries even more weight when compared with his reference to “the traditional DPRK-Russia relations.”
In his summary of foreign relations, Kim started with China before proceeding on to Russia, Cuba and Vietnam, and the US. In the English translation of the report published in the Rodong Sinmun on Jan. 9, he devoted 118 words to China, 130 words to the US, 48 to Russia, and 50 words to Cuba and Vietnam.
North Korea and China have a special relationship. To North Korea, China is both a “blood brother” that joined it in fighting the US, as well as a sole lifeline accounting for 98% of its foreign trade. To China, North Korea is a buffer zone on its Northeast Asian front with the US. Kim Jong-un has referred to the relationship with China as being like a “family” and “general staff,” while Xi described it at a May 2018 summit as being a “community of shared destiny” and “as close as lips and teeth.” At a January 2019 summit, Xi declared China to be a “reliable rear, resolute comrades and friends of the Korean comrades.”
In his latest congratulatory message, Xi referred to a “situation in which the world [has] entered a period of confusion and changes.” His appraisal was a reflection of China’s strategic rivalry and intensifying conflict with the US. Predicting that Washington and Beijing will remain at odds after President-elect Joe Biden takes office, Xi has declared a strategy of “dual [domestic and overseas] circulation” focused on boosting domestic consumption.
Kim Jong-un has likewise been seeking new avenues for survival, pursuing an approach of “tenacious self-reliance” after running into roadblocks with his approach to the US since 2018. As the clash between Washington and Beijing continues and escalates, it increases the chances of Xi’s “dual circulation” strategy joining up with Kim’s strategy for “self-reliance” and a “frontal breakthrough.” This is why the naming of China expert Kim Song-nam as director of the WPK International Department was a noteworthy development in the announcement of major WPK appointments published in the Rodong Sinmun on Jan. 11.
“If the US-China conflict intensifies, that will inevitably lead to stronger North Korea-China relations and the easing of sanctions, which could create problems for inter-Korean peace initiatives and denuclearization," said a former senior South Korean official.
Another former senior official said, “Kim Jong-un wants to avoid going ‘all in’ on China as much as possible, so South Korea and the US need to offer favorable alternatives.”
By Lee Je-hun, senior staff writer
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