China is North Korea’s only major ally and its economic support has been critical to the isolated country [EPA]
Two Chinese naval ships have arrived in Wonsan city in southeastern North Korea for a four-day “goodwill” visit.
The state-run China Central Television (CCTV) beamed footage on Thursday showing the frigate Luoyang and training vessel Zheng He arriving as Chinese military personnel were greeted by exchange students and North Korean residents carrying welcome banners and streamers.
During a brief ceremony at the port, the North Korean navy band played the national anthems of both countries.
Vice Admiral Tian Zhong, commander of China’s northern fleet, inspected the North’s honour guard accompanied by Rear Admiral Kim Myong-sik, his North Korean counterpart.
Tian also laid flowers in front of a bronze statue of Kim Il-sung, the North Korean founder, before attending a bilateral meeting hosted by Admiral Kim.
CCTV said Chinese nationals and exchange students studying in North Korea later boarded the two vessels for a tour.
China is North Korea’s only major ally, and its economic and diplomatic support has been critical for the isolated country.
The bond between the two nations dates back to China’s support for North Korean communists and its support for the North in the Korean War of 1950 to 1953.
The ships arrived as Kim Kye-gwan, North Korea’s top nuclear negotiator, concluded a visit to China during which he “exchanged views on restarting the six-party talks” with his Chinese counterpart, Wu Dawei, according to the Chinese foreign ministry.
Before arriving in Beijing, the Chinese capital, the North’s envoy visited New York for talks with US officials, raising the prospect that disarmament talks among the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia would resume.
Both called the discussions, the first such contact in four years, “constructive”.
But analysts are skeptical that the six-party process will restart anytime soon, given the gulf that has opened up between the rivals since talks collapsed two years ago.
The six-party talks began in August 2003, hosted by China, and in 2005 reached a broad agreement spelling out steps whereby North Korea would scrap its nuclear programmes in exchange for economic and energy aid and improved relations with the US and Japan.
The last round of talks ended in stalemate in December 2008 after Pyongyang failed to agree a verification