China and North Korea said they would step up cooperation to maintain security and stability on their border, after the Chinese public security minister met North Korea’s top envoy in Beijing.
Zhao Kezhi told North Korean ambassador Ri Ryong-nam on Monday that China was willing to work closely with its neighbour and strengthen strategic communication to “maintain, consolidate and develop the traditional friendship” between the two countries, the Chinese public security ministry said in a brief statement.
Ri said that North Korea was also keen to enhance communication and coordination with China while deepening pragmatic cooperation, the Chinese statement said.
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Sharing a border of nearly 1,350km (834 miles), China and North Korea are divided by the Yalu River, Paektu Mountain and the Tumen River.
North Korea was among the first countries that closed its border with China when the coronavirus was first discovered in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. Since then, some of the strictest lockdowns have been imposed in the self-isolated country, further encumbering its economy with its trade – about 90 per cent of which is with China – largely disrupted.
According to Chinese customs data, Chinese shipments to North Korea rose to US$16.8 million in July from US$12.3 million in June. That was still less than 10 per cent of the total shipments made in July 2019, months before the pandemic.
However, there have been signs that the two sides are seeking closer ties amid pressure from the US.
Ri, a former deputy premier in charge of trade who was named North Korea’s ambassador in February, said in an interview with Global Times earlier in August that the US was a threat to both China and North Korea, and the two neighbours needed to step up cooperation to tackle it.
In another rare meeting, with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in May, Ri also pledged to build “unbreakable friendship” with China while Wang reaffirmed Beijing’s commitment to keep up strategic communication and help the sanctions-hit North cope with worsening economic problems amid a prolonged stalemate over Pyongyang’s nuclear talks with the US.
Although there has been no sign of North Korea lifting its border restrictions, the meeting between Zhao and Ri came days after reports that the two countries had begun an investigation into the deaths of three Chinese fishers after their fishing boat landed on a North Korean island to take shelter during Typhoon In-fa in July.
Citing a source in China, Daily NK, a website based in the South Korean capital Seoul, said last week that the Chinese fishing boat left Zhuanghe port, near Dalian in northeast China, around July 25 and was heading to waters off North Korea’s North Pyongan province to catch crabs when the typhoon hit.
The boat eventually landed on an island in Cholsan county in North Pyongan, where North Korean soldiers discovered them and opened fire, the report said.
The Chinese public security ministry did not immediately reply to an inquiry about the incident from the South China Morning Post. The foreign ministry said last week that it was still verifying the report.
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