China's top legislator Zhao Leji, ranked No. 3 in the ruling Communist Party's leadership, vowed strengthened ties with North Korea at a ceremony held Friday in Pyongyang as part of events to mark the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations this year, Chinese state-run media said.

Zhao, who is on a three-day visit to North Korea through Saturday, is the highest Chinese official to visit the neighboring country since President Xi Jinping traveled there in June 2019. The chairman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee may meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

At the ceremony, Zhao expressed Beijing's willingness to deepen strategic mutual trust and boost exchanges and cooperation, while Choe Ryong Hae, head of North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly, similarly conveyed Pyongyang's eagerness to further strengthen bilateral ties.

On Thursday, Zhao and Choe witnessed the signing of bilateral cooperation documents, including reciprocal visa exemption for diplomatic and official passport holders, according to China's official Xinhua News Agency.

In his talks with Choe, Zhao echoed Xi's repeated remarks that China attaches "great importance" to the two countries' traditional friendly and cooperative relations and pursues an "unwavering strategy" to maintain, consolidate and develop them, Xinhua said.

China's top legislator Zhao Leji (far L), ranked No. 3 in the ruling Communist Party's leadership, and Choe Ryong Hae (far R), head of North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly, attend a welcome banquet at the Mansudae Assembly Hall in Pyongyang on April 11, 2024. (KCNA/Kyodo)

North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said a welcome banquet was held Thursday evening for Zhao at the Mansudae Assembly Hall. Choe said in his speech that he believes bilateral cooperation will be substantially boosted in all fields, including politics, economy and culture, to "add new vitality" to the relationship.

China is North Korea's closest and most influential ally in economic terms. The two countries established diplomatic relations on Oct. 6, 1949.

Speculation is growing that Kim may visit China later this year to mark the anniversary.

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