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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

North Korea's Kim greets Chinese official, calls for stronger ties

Mr Kim is expected to hold summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in this month

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un meets Song Tao, the head of the China's Communist Party's International Department on April 15, 2018. KCNA / Reuters
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un meets Song Tao, the head of the China's Communist Party's International Department on April 15, 2018. KCNA / Reuters

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un personally greeted a top Chinese official in Pyongyang and called for stronger ties with Beijing, state media said on Sunday, as the traditional allies seek to heal battered relations.

Mr Kim met with Song Tao, head of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee's international department, who was leading an art troupe to attend a spring festival in the North's capital.

The delegation arrived just weeks after Mr Kim made a surprise visit to Beijing and met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, signalling an attempt by both leaders to shore up a key alliance ahead of a period of high-stakes diplomacy.

Mr Kim is expected to hold summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in this month and US President Donald Trump in the following weeks.

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The North's official KCNA news agency said Mr Kim welcomed Mr Song and his delegation in a meeting on Saturday, where Mr Song conveyed Mr Xi's "warm greetings".

The two exchanged "profound views on the important matters of mutual concern" and the international situation, KCNA said, without providing details.

"The Supreme Leader said that he would positively carry forward and develop the traditional DPRK-China friendship into a fresh phase of development as required by a new era," it added, using the North's official acronym.

Beijing is North Korea's sole major ally, an alliance dating back to the 1950-1953 Korean War, but relations deteriorated after China backed UN sanctions to punish Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons programme.

More high-level exchanges and cooperation will follow between Beijing and Pyongyang, the report cited Mr Kim as saying.

In response, Mr Song vowed to make "a fresh contribution to promoting the prolonged and stable development of the China-DPRK relations".

Mr Kim also hosted a banquet for the Chinese delegation, in which officials from the two sides toasted to their shared will "to more beautifully decorate the flower garden of the DPRK-China friendship".

Song is leading a Chinese art troupe attending a spring art festival in Pyongyang held as part of the commemorations for the anniversary of the birth of the North's founder Kim Il Sung on April 15, 1912.

Both North Korean and foreign artists take part, and this year's week-long event includes concerts, dance performances and acrobatics.

KCNA also issued a rare separate report on Mr Kim's wife who attended a performance by the Chinese art troupe on Saturday in the absence of her husband.

"First Lady Ri Sol Ju enjoyed a ballet choreodrama 'Giselle' given by the National Ballet of China," KCNA reported, adding she held "friendly talk" with the guests ahead of the performance.

China has sent art troupes to every festival since 1986, except in 2016.