China keeps focus on friendship with North Korea, no public word on nuclear crisis as envoys meet
Beijing’s influence over Pyongyang may be limited amid Kim’s mistrust of China, analyst says
China has tried to underscore traditional ties with North Korea, making no public mention of the crisis on the Korean peninsula in a brief statement after a Beijing envoy met a senior Pyongyang official on Friday.
China sent veteran diplomat Song Tao, head of the Communist Party’s international department, to Pyongyang to brief North Korean official Choe Ryong-hae on last month’s twice-a-decade national congress.
In the statement after the meeting, the department said the friendship between the two countries was a source of “valuable wealth” and they should advance the relationship.
“China-North Korean friendship was cultivated and founded by the leaders of previous generations in the two countries and they are valuable assets of the two countries,” it said.
“Both sides must work hard together to promote further development of relations between the two parties and two countries to benefit their two peoples.”
Pyongyang’s official KCNA news agency said Song told Choe “in detail” about the congress, and stressed China’s focus on traditional friendly relations between the two countries.
The meeting comes after China has stepped up enforcement of United Nations sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear and missile programmes.
Song’s trip also comes just a week after US President Donald Trump visited Beijing, pressing China to take more action to rein in North Korea.
In a Twitter post on Thursday, Trump said Song’s visit was a “big move”.
But analysts said Song might have limited influence given the mistrust between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Beijing.
East China Normal University professor Shen Zhihua said Kim did not have “firm” trust in Beijing, and contact between the two neighbours was continuing only as a matter of convention.
“Only Kim Jong-un has the last word on whether North Korea will take the offer of a peaceful solution, no matter what deal Beijing and Washington reach,” Shen said.
“China has limited influence over North Korea. The foundation of their political alliance has been dismantled. The strong trust between the two no longer exists.”
Bonnie Glaser, from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said ties between the two countries were under great strain.
“Relations are extremely stressed – perhaps at the lowest point since the Korean war. Perhaps [the mission] will put a floor under China-North Korea relations, preventing further deterioration,” Glaser said.
Song arrived in the North Korean capital on Friday but it is not clear how long he will be there or whether he will meet Kim.
The last time China’s special envoy for North Korea visited the country was in February last year.
Kim and Chinese President Xi Jinping exchanged messages of congratulations and thanks over the party congress, but neither leader has visited the other’s country since assuming power.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse