North Korea

China’s Xi Jinping will make first visit as president to North Korea ‘soon’, says South Korean leader

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in announces Chinese leader’s visit as diplomatic efforts to reach peace deal on peninsula continue with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to region

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 October, 2018, 11:22am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 October, 2018, 11:31pm

Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to visit North Korea “soon”, according to Seoul.

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in told a cabinet meeting about Xi’s visit on Monday without disclosing further information.

He was speaking as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s tour of the region continued, including a meeting with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un over the weekend.

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Xi has not visited North Korea since coming to power in 2013 although he sent Li Zhanshu, Beijing’s third-ranking Communist Party official, to Pyongyang last month for North Korea’s 70th anniversary celebrations. Xi visited North Korea in 2008, when he was China’s vice-president.

Moon also said he expected Kim to visit Russia, adding that a North Korea-Japan summit was also possible.

On Friday, Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of the Russian senate, visited South Korea and told senior officials that talks about the details of Kim’s visit were underway.

“A new order is being created on the Korean peninsula, and that new order will lead to a new order in northeast Asia,” Moon said, noting that the ongoing talks between the various parties were essential for the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and the establishment of permanent peace.

“We will have to make an active effort to cooperate with the relevant countries,” he added.

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North Korean state news agency KCNA described Sunday’s talks between Kim and Pompeo as “productive and wonderful”, adding that the two sides’ stances were “fully understood and opinions exchanged”.

The US Secretary of State will conclude his tour of the region with a visit to China, were he was due to meet officials on Monday.

Xi’s decision to visit Pyongyang may indicate a shift in China’s US policy, towards a more hawkish stance against the US as conflict between the two countries moves beyond trade.

Experts had noted Xi’s absence from North Korea’s 70th anniversary last month as a possible demonstration of China’s willingness to stabilise its relations with the US. At that time, President Donald Trump was accusing China of slowing down the denuclearisation process with North Korea.

Now, however, China appears more willing to actively vie for greater influence on the Korean peninsula and consolidate its role, despite US backlash.

Improved ties with Pyongyang would enhance Beijing’s bargaining power with the US, according to Zhang Baohui, a professor of political science and director of the Centre for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong.

“China may have reached a different assessment that the Trump administration may be pursuing a containment policy against China regardless of what China does,” he said.

China would also be aiming to reserve its seat in the upcoming peace treaty on the Korean peninsula, according to Zhang. “If the US is opposing China’s participation on the peace treaty, Kim and Moon would be the leaders who can make a difference for China,” he said.

The Korean war ended in 1953 after an armistice was signed by China, the United Nations Command and North Korea. No formal peace agreement was ever struck.

China still wants to be seated at the end of war declaration and will be actively looking to secure its participation during Xi’s visit to Pyongyang, according to Zhao Tong, a fellow at Carnegie’s Nuclear Policy Programme at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy in Beijing.

The two Koreas agreed in April, at the heavily fortified border of Panmunjom, to actively pursue trilateral – two Koreas and the US – or quadrilateral meeting – including China – to declare an official end to the war by this year.

“There is no doubt that China would want to be in the loop, to voice its interests on the Korean peninsula via North Korea, especially amid the resumed denuclearisation negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang,” Zhao said.

“It would be unacceptable for Beijing for an end of war declaration to be announced by the two Koreas and the US only, without China … What China cares about the most is the formality rather than the substance itself. It does not want to appear to be only superpower being left out in the process,” he said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a press briefing on Monday that China and North Korea were good neighbours and Beijing would carry on the tradition of friendship.