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Kim Jong-un congratulates Xi on containing COVID-19

(KCNA-Yonhap)
(KCNA-Yonhap)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sought to strengthen ties with China by sending a message to Chinese President Xi Jinping congratulating him on gaining control over the COVID-19 situation.

In the message Kim congratulated Xi, “highly appreciating that he has seized a chance of victory in the war against the unprecedented epidemic,” the North’s Korean Central News Agency said Friday.

“Kim Jong-un wished Xi Jinping good health, expressing conviction that the Chinese party and people would cement the successes made so far and steadily expand them and thus win a final victory under the wise guidance of Xi Jinping,” it added.

On Feb. 1, when the novel coronavirus was spreading rapidly in China, the KCNA reported that Kim had sent a letter to Xi conveying his support for China’s fight against COVID-19.

Kim’s latest message to Xi comes as China and North Korea resume economic activities now that the coronavirus is contained.

Observers said Kim appears to have highlighted once again his hopes of improving ties with China, on which North Korea depends almost entirely to keep its economy running.

North Korea shut down its border with China in late January due to COVID-19. As a result, trade volume between the two countries dropped 55 percent from a year ago to $230 million in the first three months of this year and plunged 91 percent to $18 million in March, according to South Korea’s National Intelligence Service.

“Commercial activity in North Korea subsided greatly with fewer marketplaces open. Price hikes for imported food items such as condiments and sugar led to hoarding of daily necessities in Pyongyang, and crowds queueing at stores,” the NIS said in a closed-door report to the parliamentary intelligence committee on Wednesday.

China accounted for 95.2 percent of North Korea’s trade last year, up from 91.7 percent in 2018, according to the Korea International Trade Association.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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