China is trying to downplay a rare message Xi Jinping sent to Kim Jong Un

Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping.
source
Reuters

    China’s president recently sent a message to Kim Jong Un saying he hoped China and North Korea could promote diplomatic relations. The message was interpreted as a sign of improved relations between the two countries. Beijing said people were reading too much into it.

China’s president recently sent a rare message to Kim Jong Un, in what appeared to be an olive branch between the two countries. But China is trying to downplay it as common courtesy.

Earlier this week, Xi Jinping told Kim he wished China and North Korea could “promote the development of relations… in a sustainable, sound, and stable way,” and to provide their citizens “with better happiness.”

Xi’s message, published by the state-run KCNA and Rodung Sinmun news agencies, also addressed Kim as “Comrade Chairman.” The last time Kim received a message from Xi was in July 2016, South Korea’s JoongAng Daily newspaper said.

The note was widely interpreted as a sign of improved relations between Beijing and Pyongyang, which has appeared to sour of later after Beijing ordered all of its North Korean businesses to abide by UN sanctions in September.

South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency said Xi “appear[ed] to be reaching out to neighboring countries.” Channel News Asia, a Singaporean news agency, said the message “signalled a possible improvement in their strained relationships.”

John Delury, a professor at Seoul’s Yonsei University, also told CNN these were “baby steps, [albeit] not a breakthrough” in China-North Korea relations.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets Liu Yunshan, then a member of China's governing Central Committee, in Pyongyang in 2015.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets Liu Yunshan, then a member of China’s governing Central Committee, in Pyongyang in 2015.
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REUTERS/KCNA

China, however, has suggested that people were reading too much into it.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Xi was simply thanking Kim for his note congratulating Xi on last month’s Communist Party Congress, which cemented him as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.

Asked on Thursday whether the message signalled improved China-North Korea ties, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chungying told a reporter:

“I believe you raised the first question probably out of the instinct as a journalist, who often tries to interpret a lot even from a little information. We have received many congratulatory messages and letters on the success of the 19th National Congress from a large number of state leaders and heads of international organizations, and the Chinese leaders replied to express thanks in return.

“As close neighbors, China and the DPRK maintain the tradition of friendly exchange between the two parties and countries. This serves the interests of China and the DPRK and is conducive to regional peace and stability.”

Hua added that China hoped current tensions over North Korea’s nuclear development would be resolved through peaceful negotiations, a message the country has promoted multiple times before.

It comes as US President Donald Trump embarks on his first presidential trip to Asia.