China sends well-wishes to Kim for his birthday

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China sends well-wishes to Kim for his birthday

China said this week that it had sent a message to the young ruler of North Korea to congratulate him on his birthday, hinting at Beijing’s possible intention to improve strained ties with Pyongyang.

Kim Jong-un, the supreme leader of the reclusive Communist regime, is believed to have turned 32 on Thursday.

“The Chinese side has conveyed congratulations to the DPRK,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement on Thursday, referring to North Korea by its formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “We wish the [North Korean] people new achievements in the country’s economic and social developments under the leadership of First Secretary King Jong-un.”

Few personal details are known about Kim, who took power after his father, Kim Jong-il, died in December 2011.

Last year on Jan. 8, former American basketball star Dennis Rodman sang “Happy Birthday” to Kim Jong-un, which publicized the birth date for the first time.

“In the new year, [China] will push forward its traditional friendship and cooperation with the DPRK, in keeping with the principles of carrying on the tradition, looking to the future, developing good neighborly and friendly relations, and enhancing cooperation,” Hong added, noting that the two countries are friendly and have a “long-standing tradition of amicable exchanges.”

Beijing’s congratulatory message to Kim appeared to indicate its intention to improve relations with Pyongyang. Although China is the North’s long-standing ally, their relations worsened drastically after Kim took power.

The North’s third nuclear test in February 2013, despite China’s opposition, and Kim’s decision to execute his powerful uncle, Jang Song-thaek, who had close ties with the Beijing leadership, particularly damaged relations.

“The principles of carrying on the tradition, looking to the future, developing good neighborly and friendly relations and enhancing cooperation,” as mentioned by Hong, have long been the basis of their relations, though that rhetoric disappeared in official messages and diplomatic exchanges over the past year.

Observers say it was first time such language has been used in an official statement by the Chinese government in almost a year. Those principles were agreed upon at the summit in 2001 by Jiang Zemin, the Chinese president at the time, and then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Since then, they have been repeatedly emphasized in congratulatory messages sent by Jiang’s successors. However, they disappeared when Chinese President Xi Jinping and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un exchanged messages last year.

No mass celebration was observed in Pyongyang for the young ruler, according to South Korea’s Ministry of Unification. The North’s state-run media also made no mention of a birthday celebration for Kim.

Celebrating the birthday of the country’s supreme leader has long been an important part of state affairs in a country run by the Kim family, which relies heavily on a cult of personality.

The birthday of North Korea’s late founder Kim Il Sung on April 15 is one of the biggest holidays in the country, known as the Day of the Sun, and mass festivities take place.

BY SER MYO-JA [myoja@joongang.co.kr]


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