In his message to Kim, Xi said the pair had met five times, kept close communication “through various forms”, and elevated their ties “into a new era”, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency.
He hailed the two countries as “friendly neighbours linked by the same mountain and river” in contrast to last year’s message that described Kim as “a good comrade, good neighbour and good friend”.
Noting “accelerating changes unseen in a century” across the world, Xi said: “No matter how the international and regional situation changes, it has always been the unswerving position of the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government to maintain, consolidate and develop the traditional friendly and cooperative relationship [with Pyongyang].
“Under the new circumstances, China is willing to work with the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] to strengthen strategic communication and deepen practical cooperation, push China-DPRK relations to advance with the times and achieve greater development, so as to better benefit the two peoples and make greater contributions to regional peace, stability, development and prosperity.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin also sent Kim a similar message, according to North Korea’s official news agency KCNA, ahead of a rumoured trip by Pyongyang’s reclusive leader later this month to Vladivostok.
During Kim’s meeting with the visiting Chinese delegation on Friday, the two sides announced their aim of “further intensifying the multifaceted coordination and cooperation” between the two countries, according to KCNA.
The Chinese delegation, led by Liu, a Politburo member, is the second to visit from Beijing in six weeks as the North starts to reopen its border following Covid.
In July, Beijing dispatched Li Hongzhong, the top ranking vice-chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, to attend a huge military parade in Pyongyang to commemorate the signing of an armistice in the 1950-53 Korean war.
The visit comes amid heightened tensions in the Korean peninsula as the North steps up missile tests while the US has staged joint military exercises with Japan and South Korea.
On Thursday he warned Chinese Premier Li Qiang that the South regarded it as an “existential issue” and urged China to “fulfil its responsibility and role as a permanent member of the UN Security Council”.
At an emergency meeting of the council last month to discuss the North’s nuclear programme, China and Russia blocked additional sanctions and blamed the US for its “long-standing hostile policy” towards Pyongyang.
But Yoon told Li on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Jakarta: “If North Korea’s nuclear issue is not addressed, there is no other option but to strengthen cooperation between South Korea, the US and Japan.”
Zhang Liangui, a North Korea specialist at the Central Party School in Beijing, warned that amid the rivalry between China and the US, North Korea had managed to make substantial progress in its military expansion towards becoming a world-class nuclear power.
“North Korea’s military rise is deeply worrying because it could greatly change the landscape of Northeast Asia and bring huge uncertainty to the already tense situation in the region,” he said.
“If the two opposing blocs emerge in Northeast Asia, it will not only restore the structure of Cold War-era international relations, but may also lead to an extremely unfavourable situation for China. This is extremely concerning,” he said.
But Wooyeal Paik, an associate professor and deputy director of the Yonsei Institute of North Korean Studies in Seoul, noted Beijing’s uneasiness about the possible summit between Putin and Kim.
“The Chinese leadership would not welcome the imminent recovery of military and technological cooperation between North Korea and Russia, which strongly signals the security convergence between the Indo-Pacific region and Euro-Atlantic region, exacerbating Northeast Asia’s security dilemma,” Paik said. “In this context, Xi’s message is strong but not strong enough to slow it down.”