North’s message to China ho-hum

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North’s message to China ho-hum

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sent a congratulatory message to Chinese President Xi Jinping to mark the 65th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, but the message conspicuously skipped Pyongyang’s usual praise of its “friendship” with Beijing.

According to the North’s Korean Central News Agency yesterday, Kim and other North Korean leaders - including Pak Pong-ju, premier of the cabinet - sent anniversary greetings to Chinese leaders including President Xi and Premier Li Keqiang.

“Our people hope that the Chinese people will achieve bigger successes in the efforts for the development and prosperity of the country, and we wish the People’s Republic of China prosperity and your people happiness,” the brief message said.

The three-paragraph greeting was lackluster compared to messages sent to Beijing’s leadership on similar occasions in the past.

Conspicuously missing from this year’s message was North Korea’s routine bragging about the “North-China friendship” to celebrate its closeness with China.

In the message to Xi last year, Kim stressed the importance of further developing the bilateral alliance built on the blood and sacrifice of earlier generations.

In 2012, Kim stressed the importance of developing the two countries’ friendship by upholding the legacies of his father and grandfather, the two previous rulers of North Korea.

North Korea observers have watched Pyongyang’s relations with Beijing cool over in recent years, particularly in the aftermath of the Kim Jong-un regime’s nuclear test in 2013, which China had cautioned against.

The execution of Jang Song-thaek, the powerful uncle of Kim known for his close relations with China, also played a role in Beijing’s disgruntlement with Pyongyang.

The message to China was the latest in a series of signs of deteriorating China-North relations. Last month, Xi sent his own congratulatory message on the 66th anniversary of the founding of North Korea.

Pyongyang also gave more prominence to a message from Russian President Vladimir Putin. Xi’s message was published on the third page of the Rodong Sinmun, while Putin’s message was featured on the front page. Kim’s message to China comes as the young North Korean ruler continues to avoid the public eye. He hasn’t made a public appearance since Sept. 3. Through its official TV network, the North admitted last week that Kim was ill in some way, although it said he was still working despite his “discomfort.”

Foreign Policy magazine claimed on its website that Kim has come down with gout. The report quoted a popular rumor without naming a source. It also quoted a U.S. expert as saying Kim is resting at family retreats away from the North Korean capital city.

“According to officially released information, Kim Jong-un spends much of his time at the family compounds in Wonsan and Kangdong,” Curtis Melvin, a researcher with the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, was quoted as saying by Foreign Policy.

Wonsan is in South Hamgyong Province and Kangdong is in southern Pyongan. The family compound in Kangdong is where Kim Jong-il, the late father of the young North Korean ruler, recovered from a stroke, Melvin said.

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