N. Korea goes 'low-key' ahead of summits with S. Korea, U.S., but aims to strengthen relations

북한, 릴레이회담 앞두고 비교적 차분한 행보... 중국과는 밀월관계 내세워
North Korea usually celebrate its founder Kim Il-sung's birthday with various cultural and military events.
This year, the regime decided to keep it low-key.
But Pyongyang provided a special welcome to the Chinese delegation to strengthen relations with Beijing.
Oh Jung-hee sheds light on the North's adjustments... made ahead of its summits with Seoul and Washington.
Until last year, North Korea has celebrated April 15th -- the birthday of the regime's founder Kim Il-sung -- by not only holding various arts and sports events but showing off its military power.
In 2017, the North launched a Hwasong-12 intermediate range ballistic missile... and held a large scale military parade.
In 2016, the regime fired a Musudan IRBM.
But this year, no particular military movements of such kind were reported... and Pyongyang, at its national meeting commemorating the founder's birthday, made no mention of its nuclear power.
Celebrations were mostly focused on festivals and the current leader Kim Jong-un paying tribute.

The regime seems to have adopted a 'low-key' policy ahead of its highly anticipated summits with South Korea and the U.S.
But at the same time, North Korea is also strengthening relations with China.

Over the weekend, Song Tao, the head of the Chinese ruling party's international liaison department,... arrived in Pyongyang, leading China's art troupe to celebrate Kim Il-sung's birthday.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met him face-to-face,... unlike Song's previous visit last November.
Pyongyang's state-run Korean Central News Agency reported... Kim and Song discussed "issues of mutual concern and the international situation" -- which could highly likely mean upcoming Washington-Pyongyang summit.
Kim is known to have said it is his duty as (quote)"a close friend" to welcome and specially treat the delegation... as they were directly sent by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

"If North Korea holds talks with the U.S. without improving its relations with China, then it would have a very unstable base to fall back on. China won't be able to minimize or abolish international sanctions, but it can provide other kinds of support such as daily necessities and rice."

Meanwhile on Sunday, Kim Jong-un's wife Ri Sol-ju watched the Chinese artists' performance, and for the first time, Pyongyang's state media called Ri the "first lady."
She's been referred to only as Kim Jong-un's wife beforehand.
Experts interpret this as a sign of the regime trying to place itself at the same level with other nations.
Ri has also accompanied Kim's summit with Xi Jinping... and stood alongside China's first lady Peng Liyuan.
Oh Jung-hee, Arirang News.

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