Nov. 3 (UPI) -- China is quietly ramping up food assistance to North Korea and may have sent as many as 600,000 tons of grain this year, according to a Japanese press report.
The Asahi Shimbun reported Tuesday that Beijing has sent shipments of grain, including corn from June to August, despite North Korea's enforcement of border closures. Pyongyang may also have requested more food assistance and China may be ready to send another 200,000 tons, the report said.
China has also delivered 550,000 tons of fertilizer, the Asahi reported, citing multiple South Korean government sources.
Food delivery to the North over the summer coincided with typhoons and mass flooding that affected the entire country and likely wiped out crops. Leader Kim Jong Un apologized to North Koreans for the hardships they had to endure as a result of natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Our people have placed trust, as high as the sky and as deep as the sea in me, but I have failed to always live up to it satisfactorily," Kim said on Oct. 10. "I am really sorry for that."
Kim has cultivated closer ties with Chinese leader Xi Jinping since 2018. Last week, North Korea's Rodong Sinmun highlighted a letter from Xi to Kim that expressed Beijing's willingness to develop the "traditional Sino-Korean friendship, to better the welfare of our two people, and promote regional peace, stability and development."
North Korea, which shares an 880-mile border with China, remains guarded amid the pandemic.
The World Health Organization said North Korea had tested about 10,500 people for the coronavirus by Oct. 22, a three-fold increase over September.
On Oct. 29, North Korea told the WHO there were zero confirmed cases. The health organization, however, does not have direct access to North Korean populations to monitor testing, a U.N. official has said.