Chinese president Xi Jinping will make his first state visit to North Korea this week, state media have announced, amid stalling US talks with the regime on its nuclear program.
Xi will meet Kim Jong-un during the visit on Thursday and Friday, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said. It said the trip will be the first by a Chinese president in 14 years.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) also announced the visit, but provided no further details.
The visit coincides with the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and North Korea, CCTV said. The broadcaster added the leaders would exchange views on the situation on the Korean peninsula.
South Korea’s presidential office said it hoped Xi’s visit to North Korea would contribute to a swift resumption of negotiations to resolve the nuclear standoff. It said it has been engaging in discussions with Beijing over the possibility of a visit by Xi, which it views as a positive development in efforts to peacefully resolve the peninsula’s issues.
The visit comes as negotiations between the US and North Korea appear to have reached an impasse.
A summit in Vietnam in February between Kim and Donald Trump failed after the US rejected North Korea’s request for extensive relief from UN sanctions in exchange for dismantling its main nuclear complex, a partial disarmament step. Since the summit’s breakdown, no major contacts between the US and North Korea have been announced.
Kim travelled to the Russian far east in April for a meeting with Vladimir Putin. The move was viewed as aimed at strengthening his leverage over Washington and persuading Moscow to loosen its implementation of the international sanctions against North Korea.
Last month, North Korea fired short-range missiles and other weapons into the sea in an apparent effort to apply pressure on the US.
KCNA reported in April that Kim said he would give the US “till the end of the year” to reach out with further proposals.
Since taking office in 2012, Xi has met Kim four times in China. The meetings were timed in proximity to Kim’s meetings with Trump and South Korean president Moon Jae-in, highlighting Beijing’s role as a key player in the nuclear standoff. Beijing has long advocated a “dual suspension” approach in which North Korea would halt its nuclear and missile activities while the US and South Korea cease large-scale joint military exercises.
Chinese political scholar Zhang Lifan said the aim of Xi’s trip is likely not to make any breakthroughs, but rather to remind other countries of China’s unique position.
Zhang said Beijing may be seeking to gain leverage ahead of a G20 summit in Japan later this month and reassert itself as a global player amid growing concerns over its economy.
“North Korea is a card for China to play,” Zhang said. “China may want to show off its relationship with North Korea and demonstrate its importance to US-North Korean relations.”