North Korea and China are showing growing signs of cementing stronger political ties this year in what experts say is an effort to secure a better position in the upcoming diplomatic dialogue with Barack Obama’s new U.S. administration.
The two countries have made moves to forge a closer alliance since last year. Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, China’s second most powerful official, made an unusual visit to Pyongyang last year. Kim pledged Pyongyang would “never breach trust with China” when another high-profile Beijing official, Wang Jiarui, visited North Korea. Kim also made a personal visit to the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang.
Chun Hyun-joon, senior researcher at Korea Institute for National Unification, said North Korea plans to use its close political relations with Beijing as a “negotiating card” during the upcoming nuclear talks with Washington. “They probably want to send the message that ‘we have a strong backer called China behind us,’” said Chun.
Because of currently frozen inter-Korean relations, Pyongyang has reason to approach Beijing also a possible source of aid, according to Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korean studies professor at Dongguk University.
“China has long been prioritizing relations with the South while alienating the North,” said Lee Tae-hwan, a researcher at the Sejong Institute. “But now such a tactic is about to change as Beijing seems to be poised to handle the two Koreas equally.”