Xi Jinping’s envoy heads home from North Korea but China silent on talks with Kim Jong-un
Beijing and Pyongyang have not reached consensus on nuclear weapons programme, Chinese analyst says
A special envoy of Chinese President Xi Jinping wrapped up his four-day visit to North Korea on Monday with no mention of a meeting with Kim Jong-un, the leader of the reclusive state.
State-run Xinhua reported that Song Tao met North Korean officials in Pyongyang and discussed ties between the two countries and the situation on the Korean peninsula.
It also said Song briefed North Korean officials on the Chinese Communist Party’s national congress last month.
The two sides pledged to “strengthen communication between their ruling parties to further promote the relationship” between China and North Korea, the report said.
After arriving in Pyongyang on Friday, Song held talks with Choe Ryong-hae, a vice-chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea and Kim’s right-hand man. The Chinese envoy also met Ri Su-yong, the country’s top official in charge of foreign affairs, but the report did not say whether Song met Kim.
Song, the head of the Communist Party’s international liaison department, went to Pyongyang after US President Donald Trump called on China to work harder to rein in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
Wang Sheng, a professor of Korean affairs at Jilin University, said the differences between the two countries were apparent from the report’s failure to mention a meeting with Kim.
“Obviously consensus on how to deal with matters around nuclear weapons has not been reached between China and North Korea,” Wang said. “China has appeared to reach agreement with the United States on sanctioning North Korea while hoping for peace talks. But Kim may be unlikely to accept this proposal … and [North Korea] has quite a big ego.”
Still, Wang said, Sino-North Korean ties should not be loosened just because a meeting might not have taken place.
“This was a party-to-party meeting. China’s main purpose was to tell North Korea about Xi Jinping’s new thoughts and also the congress outcomes,” he said.
“Diplomatic protocol between China and North Korea is kind of undefined – there are no clear lines about what rank of official needs to meet another.”
Tong Zhao, a fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy in Beijing, said Song’s meetings with key officials in Pyongyang during his “relatively long visit” suggested North Korea wanted to maintain stable and positive relations with China.
“But if it is true that Song did not meet Kim Jong-un, that may mean North Korea does not want to face more pressure from China,” Tong said. “From this we can tell that China’s direct influence on North Korea is limited.”
Before leaving on Monday, Song went to a mausoleum for former North Korean leaders in Pyongyang, Korean Central News Agency reported.
Song toured the mausoleum’s exhibition rooms featuring medals and vehicles used by former leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il and left a message in a guest book.
“I express heartfelt longing for comrades Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il who were great leaders of the Korean people and friends of China,” Song wrote, according to the report.