SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met Chinese senior diplomat Song Tao, and feted a Chinese art troupe led by Song, North Korean state media said on Sunday, indicating closer ties with China following Kim's surprise visit to Beijing last month.
The North Korean leader on Saturday "warmly" greeted Song Tao and the Chinese delegation visiting Pyongyang to perform and also expressed his greetings to Chinese President Xi Jinping after Song conveyed Xi's greetings to Kim, the North's official Korea Central News Agency said.
"He said with deep emotion that the Chinese comrades accorded cordial hospitality to him with utmost sincerity in token of warm comradely friendship during his recent unforgettable visit to China," the KCNA said.
In late March, Kim made a rare visit to Beijing and met Xi, Kim's first known journey abroad since he took power in 2011.
The Chinese art troupe, led by Song, the head of the Communist Party's International Department, left for North Korea on Friday for an April Spring Friendship Art Festival.
The art troupe performed on Saturday at the Mansudae Art Theatre, and the North Korean leader Kim's wife Ri Sol Ju watched a ballet "Giselle," performed by the National Ballet of China, but Kim was not present, the KCNA said.
At the meeting with Song, Kim also said the warm welcome was "due obligation and behavior of the host and close friend for him," and would offer "all conditions for the Chinese art troupe at the highest level and on a top-priority basis," according to the KCNA.
That contrasts with Song's last visit to Pyongyang last November, when he was sent as Xi's special enjoy to discuss the outcome of China's 19th Party Congress. Song returned to Beijing without meeting Kim.
North Korea's ties with China, its sole ally, had become strained over the past couple of years over the North's contentious missile and nuclear tests.
Kim and Song also exchanged their views on deepening the bilateral relations, the KCNA said. Kim said he would develop their friendship into a "fresh phase of development as required by a new era by further strengthening of the bilateral relations."
(Reporting By Jane Chung; editing by Jonathan Oatis)