BEIJING, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- China and North Korea have vowed to strengthen their defense alliance that was first "sealed in blood" when they fought together in the Korean War.
Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie, on an official visit to North Korea, said "no force on Earth can break the unity of the armies and peoples of the two countries, and it will last forever."
Liang was speaking at a welcoming banquet on Sunday at the start of his five-day official visit, according to the North Korean government news outlet Korean Central News Agency.
The armistice agreement for the Korean War was signed in July 1953, ending hostilities between North Korea and China on one side and South Korea and U.N. forces on the other.
"Fifty years ago I came to the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) as a soldier and I experienced how the friendship between China and the DPRK was built," Liang said. "This friendship is the fortune for both countries."
However, Liang gave no specific areas such as military manufacturing where the two countries would boost cooperation.
Liang's comments, carried in an article in Beijing's China Daily News, came two weeks before a visit to North Korea by U.S. special envoy Stephen Bosworth, who will try to convince the government in the capital Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program. Bosworth will be trying to restart the stalled six-party talks after North Korea pulled out in April.
The China Daily article said that China insists on denuclearizing the Korean peninsula. It will respect North Korea's security and wants to settle the issues through peaceful negotiations, said Wang Yisheng, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Military Science.
Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, urged the United States to build a "peace mechanism" with Pyongyang to improve their relationship.
Along with North Korea, the six-party talks included representatives from China, South Korea, Russia, the United States and Japan. The talks were set up in 2003 when North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
But the talks, continually hosted by China, were floundering by 2007. North Korea left the table, for good it said, in April 2009 after the U.N. Security Council unanimously decided to condemn it over the country's satellite test launch. Even though it was a failure and the rocket fell into the Pacific Ocean, there were international concerns that it was the test bed for delivery of a nuclear warhead.
Media reports immediately after a recent visit by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to Pyongyang suggested that North Korea was willing to sit down again at the six-party talks, which paved the way for Bosworth's forthcoming visit.
The move by China's premier and the U.S. envoy's visit are, according to some analysts, part of a strategy to ensure that North Korea with its unstable economic conditions does not collapse into anarchy. China fears an influx of North Korean refugees, and Western nations fear nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists.
Liang is expected to go on to Thailand and Japan later this week.
A report from China's official state news agency Xinhua in March said China's military budget would grow by 14.9 percent in 2009. Around $70 billion will be spent upgrading military equipment, raising salaries for soldiers and increasing the military's capacity to engage in disaster relief and anti-terrorism missions.
The defense budget accounts for 6.3 percent of the country's total fiscal expenditure in 2009, a small decrease from previous years.