North Korea

North Korea invites Chinese President Xi Jinping to national day celebrations in Pyongyang

Invitation could be part of Pyongyang’s push to be seen as a normal nation, analysts say

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 July, 2018, 7:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 July, 2018, 11:15pm

North Korea has invited Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit Pyongyang in September for its national day as relations between the two countries gain pace.

An unnamed North Korean official told South Korean reporters on Friday that Pyongyang had sent an invitation to Xi to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the country’s foundation on September 9.

The anniversary is one of the hermit kingdom’s most important annual holidays, along with the birthdays of late leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.

If Xi does go, it will be the first trip to North Korea by a Chinese president since Hu Jintao’s visit in October 2005 and since Pyongyang started conducting nuclear and missile tests in 2006.

The suspension reflected deteriorating ties between the two countries, with Beijing angered by its neighbour’s tests and Pyongyang displeased with China’s support for United Nations sanctions against the regime.

But conditions have improved this year as the Koreas agreed to strengthen ties and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s unprecedented summit with US President Donald Trump in Singapore in June.

Kim has visited China to meet Xi three times since March – the first two times in the lead-up to the summit and the third in June to brief China on the outcome of the talks.

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Liu Ming, from the Centre for Korea Studies at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said North Korea might be trying to use Xi’s presence at the celebrations to suggest the bilateral relationship was back on track.

“North Korea would also look weaker if Xi did not visit given that Kim has visited China three times,” Liu said, adding that Xi gave his word that he would go when Kim visited in March.

“Chinese leaders often made reciprocal visits in Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il’s time, but not in Kim Jong-un’s. The chance of Xi accepting the invitation is quite high.”

In Beijing in June, Kim said the two countries supported each other “like a family” and bilateral ties would improve to a “new stage”.

China has since called for an end to sanctions on North Korea, and the two nations have been discussing economic cooperation.

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Ku Bon-tae, North Korea’s vice-minister of external economic affairs, also visited Beijing last week to discuss cooperation in agriculture, rail and electricity.

Cui Zhiying, director of the Korean Peninsula Research Centre at Tongji University in Shanghai, agreed that North Korea might see Xi’s visit as its first step to becoming a normal state.

“North Korea wishes to gradually integrate into the international community and thus become a normal state one day,” Cui said.

“The 70th founding anniversary is very important for North Korea ... so Pyongyang would think it was the right timing to invite Xi.

“If Xi actually visits North Korea, bilateral relations will reach a new stage ... of cooperation. China has always opposed chaos on the Korean peninsula and thus wanted the Kim regime to be stable. This will never change.”