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story.lead_photo.caption North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (center) greets members of a Chinese art troupe Saturday in Pyongyang as Song Tao (center right), a Chinese diplomat, looks on in this photo provided Sunday by the North Korean government.

PYONGYANG, North Korea -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has met with a high-ranking Chinese diplomat in Pyongyang, amid a flurry of diplomacy after Kim's recent surprise visit to Beijing.

Song Tao, who heads the ruling Communist Party's International Department, led an art troupe to Pyongyang to attend an arts festival, according to China's Foreign Ministry.

Kim made an unannounced trip to Beijing last month ahead of meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Kim's trip, during which he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, was considered an attempt to repair traditionally warm ties with China that have deteriorated over North Korea's development of ballistic missile and nuclear weapons technology and China's enforcement of United Nations economic sanctions.

Kim exchanged "deep thoughts" on international issues of concern to North Korea and China and vowed to improve bilateral relations during the meeting Saturday with Song, the Korean Central News Agency reported.

Kim said during his meeting with Song on Saturday that he and Xi "reached important consensus" in Beijing, according to China's official Xinhua News Agency.

Song agreed that the two leaders had reached consensus, and said China is willing to work with North Korea to safeguard peace on the Korean Peninsula, Xinhua reported.

Kim's friendly welcome also contrasted with the reception that Song received the last time he visited North Korea, as a special envoy of Xi in November. At that time, Kim refused to meet him and launched an intercontinental ballistic missile several days later.

On Saturday, Kim "expressed satisfaction with improving ties between the two parties and nations," the North Korean news agency said. "He voiced a need to elevate the traditional friendship to a new level of development meeting new demands of the times."

Ties between China and North Korea had become strained in recent years, as Kim conducted a series of nuclear and missile tests and Beijing voted for increasingly harsh U.N. sanctions designed to squeeze the North to stop. The sanctions banned all major North Korean exports, such as coal, iron ore, textiles and seafood.

Those sanctions have hit the isolated North hard, as China accounts for more than 90 percent of North Korea's external trade.

Until recently, Kim had refused to enter any talks on ending his nuclear weapons program. Instead, he accelerated his missile and nuclear tests after taking power in 2011, and declared in this year's New Year's Day speech that the North had achieved its goal of developing a nuclear deterrent.

Kim is scheduled to meet with Moon on April 27 in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the Koreas. He is expected to meet with Trump in May or June.

Information for this article was contributed by Choe Sang-Hun of The New York Times; and by staff members of The Associated Press.

A Section on 04/16/2018

Print Headline: Kim meets diplomat from China

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