North Korea nuclear crisis

China's special envoy meets closest aide of North Korean leader

The meeting was part of the first known visit by a high-ranking Chinese official to North Korea in more than a year.

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 November, 2017, 8:50pm
UPDATED : Friday, 17 November, 2017, 8:50pm

A special envoy of Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday met with the closest aide of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, amid an ongoing pause in Pyongyang’s saber-rattling.

Song Tao, head of the Chinese Communist Party’s International Department met Choe Ryong Hae, a vice chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, in Pyongyang.

It took place after a Chinese delegation led by Song arrived in the North Korean capital in the afternoon. At Pyongyang’s airport, Song was received by Ri Chang Gun, a vice department director of the North Korean ruling party.

Song’s visit comes about a week after U.S. President Donald Trump held talks with Xi in Beijing and said they agreed to “increase economic pressure until North Korea abandons its reckless and dangerous path.”

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It is the first known visit by a high-ranking Chinese official to North Korea in more than a year.

Trump characterized Song’s visit as a “big move” in a Twitter post on Thursday and said that “we will see what happens!”

North Korea has refrained from conducting a major arms test since Sept. 15 when it fired a ballistic missile that flew about 3,700 kilometers, an unprecedented distance and enough to reach U.S. territory of Guam where key military bases are located.

China has said the main purpose of Song’s visit is to inform North Korea of the results of the ruling party’s twice-a-decade congress held late last month and both sides are also expected to discuss relations between the two countries and “other issues of mutual concern.”

The 10-member Chinese delegation led by Song, a former vice foreign minister, appears to be staying in North Korea until Monday, a source familiar with the situation said.

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Song could potentially meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as he is a special envoy of Xi, who began his five-year second-term as general secretary of the Communist Party following the congress.

A Chinese official newspaper on Friday ran an editorial downplaying high expectations for his trip.

“Such speculation is not surprising since the belief persists that Beijing can bring some persuasion to bear on Pyongyang, and Song’s trip comes so soon after Trump’s visit,” the China Daily editorial said. “However, while Song will no doubt have discussions on issues of mutual concern, too much should not be read into his trip.”

China has been under pressure from the United States and its allies to use more of its leverage as North Korea’s main economic lifeline to push its neighbor into giving up its nuclear and missile programs.

However, China has said the North Korean nuclear issue must ultimately be resolved through “dialogue and consultation” and proposed the so-called dual suspension approach to break the stalemate.

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On Friday, a commentary of North Korea’s leading newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun of the Workers’ Party, called it “foolish” for the United States to call for negotiations aimed at unilateral dismantlement of the country’s nuclear weapons without Washington first abandoning its “hostile policy” toward Pyongyang.

“It is our fixed stand that matter related to the supreme interests of (the country) and its people’s security can never be put on the negotiating table and we have no interest in such dialogue,” the commentary said.