In Brief

Chinese President Xi Jinping sends ‘special envoy’ to North Korea

Song Tao will be the first ministerial-level Chinese official to visit Pyongyang since October 2015

China will send a senior diplomat to North Korea as global tensions over the North’s nuclear weapons and missiles programmes continue to build. The diplomat is a “special envoy” of the Chinese president Xi Jinping.

Song Tao, the head of China’s ruling Communist Party’s International Department, will head to Pyongyang tomorrow. The visit comes a week after US President Donald Trump’s 13-day Asia trip where he urged China to put more pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons, CNN reports.

Song will become the first ministerial-level Chinese official to visit North Korea since October 2015.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang steered away from saying the trip had any connection to Trump’s visit. He said it was common practice for the Communist Party and North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party to exchange views.

“The purpose of this visit is to brief about the party congress and exchange views on issues of common interest and bilateral interest,” Geng said at a briefing, according to Politico.

The Chinese state news agency Xinhua says Song will officially inform the North Korean Workers’ Party of the outcome of the 19th Party Congress in China where Chinese president Xi Jinping was elected to a second term. 

China and North Korea’s strained relationship was once a budding alliance, but the two parties still have “long-standing ties that often supersede formal diplomacy,” Politico says. China is Pyongyang’s main ally, chief source of food and fuel aid, and trading partner, but China has been frustrated by the North’s persistent advancement of its nuclear and missile programmes. As a result, it has enforced U.N. sanctions targeting North Korea’s sources of foreign currency. 

However, “Beijing has called for steps to renew dialogue.”

John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University in Seoul, says the visit will focus more on improving relations between China and North Korea and less on the nuclear missile programme. 

“Everyone’s looking for a breakthrough on the impasse over the nuclear missile programme," he said, according to Politico, "and obviously that’s part of the mix, but this looks more like the main focus is on improving the Xi, Kim channel somewhat and seeing what can be done.”

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