North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's newest expression of "great satisfaction" over a recent friendship game between the North Korean and Chinese men's basketball teams is drawing keen attention about his real intention among North Korea watchers here.
On Monday, the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported, "Kim Jong-un expressed great satisfaction over the successful game they played with deep friendship, displaying admirable technique." The game refers to the match between the North's military Sobaeksu team and China's Olympic squad in the North Korean capital, although the agency did not specify when the match was held.
It's Kim's first activity related to China since he visited a cemetery for Chinese soldiers in the North Korean county of Hoechang, South Phyongan Province, in July 2013. The soldiers were killed during the 1950-53 Korean War while fighting for the North when it invaded South Korea.
Kim's remark on the North Korea-China friendship also came less than a month after Chinese leader Xi Jinping sent him a congratulatory message on May 9 for his election as chairman of the North's ruling Workers' Party at the party congress earlier in the month.
In the message, Xi said he offers "fervent" congratulations to Kim on behalf of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and that the Chinese party and government "highly cherish" the relationship between Beijing and Pyongyang.
Xi also described the two countries' traditional neighborly ties as a "shared invaluable asset," saying that China will work together with the North to contribute to regional peace, stability and development.
The message was an unexpected departure from the Chinese government's years-long disdain of the North Korean regime in obstinate pursuit of nuclear weapons.
At that time, experts opined the congratulatory message might have come from China's need to improve ties with the North amid stepped-up efforts to strengthen security cooperation among South Korea, the U.S. and Japan in the region.
Therefore, the experts said now, the exchange of friendly messages between the leaders this time can serve as a momentum for the two communist allies to improve their ever-strained relations in recent years.
"The latest indirect contact between Pyongyang and Beijing can be read as an act in which China sent a message showing its will to not abandon the North, and the North, in turn, sent a message expressing its will to better its ties with China," said Chang Yong-seok, a senior researcher of Seoul National University's Institute for Peace and Unification Studies.
Kim Hong-gyu, director of Ajou University's Chinese policy research institute in Suwon, south of Seoul, said that the exchange of the friendly messages between Kim and Xi seem to have been made at a level of sounding out each other's real intentions for better relations.
However, most experts voice in unison that both the improvement of bilateral ties and Kim's visit to China still seems a long way off.
"(To better its relations with China), the North, for itself, should show a sincerity over denuclearization, or make a comment on nuclear freezing at least," Kim said. (Yonhap)