China to send special envoy to North Korea
Trip comes amid international tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme
China will send a special envoy to North Korea on Friday, state media reported.
Song Tao, the head of the Communist Party’s international liaison department, will visit Pyongyang as a special envoy of President Xi Jinping, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday.
The report said Song would brief North Korean officials on the Chinese Communist Party’s five-yearly national congress last month, but gave no further details of his agenda or who he would meet.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that it was routine for China and other communist countries to have such exchanges after important party meetings.
Geng added that China and North Korea would also discuss matters of mutual concern.
The trip, however, comes amid international concerns over North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme and missile tests.
US President Donald Trump urged China during his visit to Beijing last week to do more to rein in Kim Jong-un’s regime in Pyongyang.
Song’s last reported trip to North Korea was in May last year when he met Ri Su-yong, vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party. Ri is also a former foreign minister.
Beijing has repeatedly denounced Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear tests. It has also implemented UN sanctions against North Korea, leading to a deterioration in the two traditional allies’ ties.
Kim and Xi exchanged greeting messages over the national congress last month, but neither leader has visited the other’s country since taking power.
Xi told Trump that China would not recognise North Korea as a nuclear-armed state. The Chinese head of state also said in his meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in over the weekend that his government would strengthen coordination with its neighbours in dealing with North Korea.
Pyongyang’s last nuclear test was conducted on September 3. It coincided with an emerging market economies summit held in China, with analysts saying the test was a deliberate slap in the face to Beijing.
China’s international liaison department is in charge of relations with foreign political parties and other communist nations.
Song has already visited Vietnam and Laos to brief officials on the party congress.
Sun Xingjie, an international relations professor at Jilin University in northeastern China, said Song’s visit was a sign of thawing ties between Beijing and Pyongyang.
“I don’t think Beijing will change its stance on the North Korea nuclear issue,” he said. “We should be very careful and not read too much into this kind of visit, which largely follows the long-standing ritual between the two communist parties.”
Sun added that Song’s trip was a sign that China and North Korea would maintain minimum communication.
“It shows Beijing is aware that relations between China and North Korea must not further deteriorate and apparently Beijing is worried that North Korea will list China on its list of enemies,” he said.