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China, North Korea envoys lock arms in first official meeting

North Korean Ambassador Ri Ryong Nam met with China’s foreign minister Thursday, according to Beijing. File Photo by Mast Irham/EPA-EFE
North Korean Ambassador Ri Ryong Nam met with China’s foreign minister Thursday, according to Beijing. File Photo by Mast Irham/EPA-EFE

May 28 (UPI) -- Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and North Korean Ambassador Ri Ryong Nam were all smiles as they exchanged elbow bumps in their first official meeting, according to images released by Beijing.

China's foreign ministry said in a statement made available Friday that Ri met with Wang at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse on Thursday. The ministry's statement included a photo of Wang and Ri standing without facemasks. Footage showed the two men expressing solidarity by bumping elbows and linking arms.

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China is highlighting the meeting with North Korea's top diplomat to the country a week after U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korea's Moon Jae-in held their first summit at the White House.

The U.S.-South Korea meeting was hailed a success in Seoul, but Beijing has criticized the joint summit for its Taiwan-related references.

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Wang reportedly told Ri Thursday that the "friendship between the two countries, created by previous leaderships, was formed by the hardened blood shed together during a joint fight against external aggression," a reference to the 1950-53 Korean War. China sent its volunteer army to support the North Koreans during the conflict.

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"China and [North Korea] are good neighbors that share mountains and rivers," Wang said. "The traditional friendship of the two countries is valuable and...like a treasure."

Wang also said "profound changes" are affecting the "regional situation."

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China and North Korea have reached a higher level of friendship, the Chinese foreign minister said.

Ri said the attention given to the relationship by Xi Jinping and Kim Jong Un has enabled the "friendship to reach a new level," South Korean newspaper Segye Ilbo reported Friday.

Moon Il-hyun, a South Korean professor at China University of Political Science and Law, said the meeting was a sign of solidarity after the U.S.-South Korea summit, Yonhap reported Friday.

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Moon also said the absence of North Korean criticism of the U.S.-South Korea meeting last week may be a positive sign.

"North Korea appears to support China's participation in the process of denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula," Moon said.

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