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Sino-North Korea relations are now heading towards a ‘post Corona’ era

[김황록 칼럼] 지금 북중관계는 ‘포스트 코로나’ 시대로 향하고 있다

News Prime

March 7, 2021

Kim Hwang-rok, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency

In mid February, while North Korea was still beset with the ‘triple hardships’ of international sanctions, the Corona virus and natural disasters, its Foreign Ministry announced that its ambassador to China, Ji Jae-ryong (74), would be replaced by Lee Yong-nam (61). Lee, an economic expert, was appointed as that nation’s trade secretary (2008, when Lee was 48) during the Kim Jung-il period, and had retained a cabinet position as the deputy prime minister for trade in the Kim Jung-un period. As opposed to appointing an ambassador to China with a strong background in politics and diplomacy, it is highly likely this appointment was made keeping in mind [the key issue of] economic cooperation with China in the post Corona period…

It is rumoured that Wang Yajun, Vice Minister of the CPC’s Central Committee’s International Department, was nominated for the post of Ambassador to North Korea at the same time. If such an elite widely talked about as the person most likely to be the next leader of the International Department (a minister level position) is appointed as the ambassador to North Korea, the signal is clear that China, by adopting a new strategic line, won’t neglect its relationship with North Korea [to the extent that it has done recently] moving forward.

Citing the unexpected Coronavirus, North Korea last year strengthened its blockade of its borders with China. However, China’s Chairman Xi Jinping and North Korean leader Kim Jung-un have since strengthened strategic communications despite being unable to meet each other in person. In October last year, five strategic communication sessions were held, exploiting events that took place in that month such as China’s National Day, the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Part of Korea, and the anniversary of China’s entry into the Korean War. The Rodong Sinmun on the 29th of that month took the rare step of reporting the contents of Chairman Xi’s response to the celebratory telegram sent by Kim, what said “China and North Korea are a friendly federation of two nations which share adjoining mountains and rivers… we are willing to provide better welfare for the two nation’s peoples and advance the region’s peace, security and development.” The use of the terms ‘federation,’ ‘people’ and ‘welfare’ and the expression ‘we are willing’ connote that North Korea had asked for something, or needed each other…

Taken together, this shows that North Korea intends to improve the livelihood of its people, while China wants to improve the livelihoods of North Koreans and the citizens of the 3 provinces adjacent to North Korea, secure the border, and exert geopolotical influence upon North Korea.