China's Xi Vows to 'Defend' and 'Develop' North Korea Ties as Kim Rallies Army

Chinese President Xi Jinping has vowed to defend and develop his country's alliance with North Korea, according to a letter addressed to Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, who has rallied military leadership for a first-ever workshop on the political leadership of the armed forces.

The official Korean Central News Agency reported Friday local time that Kim had received another message last week from Xi in response amid a flurry of communications exchanges between the two leaders this month.

The Chinese leader was said to have conveyed his gratitude for his North Korean counterpart's prior messages expressing congratulations for the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party and sympathy over recent floods to hit Henan province and other parts of China.

Xi said Kim's correspondence indicated the "friendly feelings" between the two heads of state and their people, and vowed to further fortify this bond between the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

"Stressing that both China and the DPRK are the socialist states led by the Communist Parties," the Korean Central News Agency reported, "the message said under the new situation the Chinese side, together with the DPRK side, will contribute to accomplishing the cause of socialism in the two countries and make positive contributions to providing the peoples of the two countries with happiness and achieving regional peace, stability, development and prosperity by successfully implementing the important common understanding reached by the two sides to successfully defend, consolidate and develop the China-DPRK relations."

He was also said to have wished Kim and his Workers' Party of Korea well, with Xi saying he hoped the North Korean ruler "would achieve ceaseless, fresher and bigger successes in carrying out the cause of socialist construction by leading the WPK and the Korean people, and his work would go well."

The Friday report was accompanied in state-run outlets by news that Kim had organized a historic workshop involving commanders and political officers of the Korean People's Army at the office building of the Party Central Committee in Pyongyang earlier this week.

The meeting was held "to further enhance the military and political strength and revolutionary fighting spirit" and "to awaken the military and political cadres again to the important military strategic and tactical idea of the Party Central Committee and also to the orientations and policies for the army-building as required by the changed situation," a likely reference to the economic hardships the country is experiencing due to sanctions, a severe COVID-19 lockdown and droughts.

The meeting ended on July 27, a date marking the 68th anniversary of the cease-fire that de facto ended the Korean War, a conflict in which China supported North Korea against South Korea and a U.S.-led coalition. According to the Korean Central News Agency's report, Kim called on his cadre to relive the spirit of that conflict today, both in their domestic struggle and in dealing with foreign adversaries in a thinly veiled reference to South Korea and its ally, the United States.

"Saying that at present the hostile forces systematically keep bolstering up their capabilities for making a preemptive attack on the DPRK and increase armaments while intensifying all sorts of frantic and persistent war drills for aggression," Kim
"noted such situation has hardened the determination and fighting will of the KPA to eradicate the root cause of the evil cycle of escalating tensions."

And he "called for all the military and political cadres to put the greatest efforts into bolstering up the combat efficiency of their units, always mindful that the first criterion for assessing their loyalty to the Party and revolution and their practical ability and performance lies in how hard they try to perfect the preparations for correctly performing their wartime operation and combat missions."

North, Korea, Kim, military, workshop
North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un poses seated among commanders and political officers of the Korean People's Army on July 27 at the conclusion of a first-ever workshop coinciding with the 68th anniversary of the cease-fire that ended combat between the two Koreas but left the peninsula without any official peace treaty. Korean Central News Agency

While the remarks appeared to disparage the upcoming joint military exercises planned for next month by Washington and Seoul, Kim did not mention his two foes by name. And his remarks coincided with a potential sign of renewed peace efforts between the two Koreas.

Also on July 27, the South Korean military announced that its North Korean counterpart had reestablished communications along two cross-border lines after 14 months of silence. The Blue House also confirmed that South Korean President Moon Jae-in had exchanged a series of letters with Kim since April.

The developments signal yet another shift in the tumultuous inter-Korean peace process launched in 2018 and supported by Kim, Moon and former President Donald Trump, who made history by becoming the first-ever sitting U.S. leader to meet a North Korea ruler. But series of summits failed to produce any agreement to secure North Korea's surrender of its nuclear arsenal, the lifting of sanctions or lasting peace between Pyongyang and Seoul.

Instead, tensions returned as North Korea hardened its position. The pandemic then only further isolated the two Koreas.

But the resumption of communications was welcomed as a step toward improving their tortured dynamic, not only by the Koreas themselves, but by China and the U.S. as well, which both described the new interactions as a "positive" development.

President Joe Biden's administration has characterized its approach to the bilateral relationship with top geopolitical rival China as having elements of "cooperation," "competition" and "confrontation." When it comes to North Korea, U.S. officials have said they hoped to work together.

"Our policy calls for a calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy with the DPRK to make practical progress that increases the security of the United States, our allies and our deployed forces," a State Department spokesperson told Newsweek earlier this month. "The United States and the PRC need to work together for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

The topic was among those discussed when Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman traveled to China over the weekend, just ahead of the reestablishment of communication between North and South Korea.

Next month's scheduled U.S.-South Korea drills may prove a test, however, as such activities are routinely criticized as provocative by North Korea. And the training also faced another hurdle: a recent spike in COVID-19 cases among individuals associated with the U.S. military in South Korea.

U.S. Forces Korea vowed on Wednesday to both stay prepared to fight and protect its personnel from the pandemic at the same time.

"USFK continues to maintain a robust combined defense posture to protect the Republic of Korea against any threat or adversary while maintaining prudent preventive measures to protect the force," the U.S. command said in a statement.