North Korea

Senior Chinese official visiting North Korea expected to discuss Pyongyang’s nuclear tests, says expert

Deputy foreign minister Liu Zhenmin’s visit is the first known by a high-ranking Chinese diplomat since February

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 October, 2016, 10:07am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 October, 2016, 11:16pm

A Chinese deputy foreign minister is in Pyongyang on the first visit since February by a high-ranking Chinese official amid escalating tensions after North Korea’s fifth nuclear test last month.

Foreign Vice-Minister Liu Zhenmin arrived at Pyongyang’s international airport on Monday with a delegation of more than 10 Chinese officials, Kyodo reported.

The delegation is in North Korea to attend a meeting of the two countries’ border joint committee, the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency said, without elaborating on what issues would be addressed.

Liu also attended a commemorative event at the Sino-Korean Friendship Tower on Tuesday to mark the 66th anniversary of China’s assistance to the North in the Korean war, according to the news agency.

Hong Seon-ok, vice-chair of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea, as well as Chinese ambassador Li Jinjun attended the event, China Central Television reported.

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This is the first known visit by a high-ranking Chinese diplomat since February, when China’s top nuclear envoy, Wu Dawei, travelled to Pyongyang.

Liu’s visit comes one day after a two-day closed-door meeting in Kuala Lumpur between former US diplomats and senior Pyongyang officials over the weekend. The meeting was confirmed by the South Korean and US governments.

Leon Sigal, an academic who attended the weekend talks, said the North’s nuclear weapons programme dominated the discussion.

Sigal, who specialises in the two Koreas, told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency the North reiterated the need to sign a peace treaty with the United States before moving on its weapons programme.

The US side stressed that the move to scrap the nuclear programme had to come first, he said.

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Pyongyang announced that it had carried out its fifth nuclear test on September 9 to mark its Foundation Day.

The test was Pyongyang’s second this year, fueling concerns that it would deliver another test as soon as this month to further demonstrate its nuclear progress despite of years of condemnation and sanctions.

Last Thursday, North Korea launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile, according to a news release by the US Strategic Command, which detected a failed missile launch near the northwestern city of Kusong.

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Wang Sheng

Wang Sheng, a North Korean affairs expert at Jilin University, said he believed that nuclear issues would be raised during Liu’s discussions with the North Korean officials, especially after the weekend meeting between Washington and Pyongyang.

“Beijing has always said that US and Pyongyang are two keys in resolving the North Korea nuclear issues,” Wang said.

“Though it is not known if the [weekend] talk is more stick or carrot, this is a signal for further interaction between Pyongyang and Washington, and China, as a link to North Korea, would also want to send a signal for further negotiation.

“Parties involved all understand the urgency to solve the nuclear problem, otherwise it will get out of hand. If the nuclear issues go out of control, it would be the worst scenario for Washington before its new president takes office.”

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Beijing has been blamed for failing to fully implement US sanctions against the North since April.

Such criticism has been mounting since the North’s fifth nuclear test, though Beijing insists that some imports for civilian use should be exempted, including items intended for “the people’s well-being” and those not connected to its nuclear or missile programmes.

Last month, the public security bureau in Liaoning province, which shares a border with North Korea, said it had placed Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development Company in Dandong, which has business cooperations with Pyongyang, under investigation for “serious economic crimes in trade activities”.

Additional reporting by Kyodo and Agence France-Presse