North Korea

Xi Jinping to visit North Korea next month, report claims

Chinese president had been invited to attend celebrations to mark 70th anniversary of communist neighbour’s foundation

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 August, 2018, 2:19pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 August, 2018, 11:36pm

Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Pyongyang next month as ties between China and its close neighbour North Korea improve, The Straits Times reported on Saturday.

The Singapore-based newspaper’s report, which did not cite a source, said Xi would go to Pyongyang to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding on September 9 at the invitation of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

It was earlier reported that North Korea sent an invitation to Xi for the event, but Beijing has yet to provide any information on the Chinese president’s visit. China’s foreign ministry did not respond to a request to confirm the report on Saturday.

If confirmed, the visit will be the first by a top Chinese leader to North Korea since Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao’s trip in 2005.

Kim has already visited China three times this year, travelling twice to Beijing and once to Dalian. Xi met the North Korean leader during all of those visits, amid warmer relations between the two communist countries. The first two meetings, in March and May, were held in the lead-up to the landmark summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump in Singapore in June. The third came after the talks, to brief China on the outcome.

The Chinese leader’s attendance at the 70th anniversary event in North Korea would be in line with a development plan for bilateral ties set out by Xi and Kim earlier this year, according to Sun Xingjie, a Korean peninsula expert at Jilin University.

“They have agreed to step up high-level exchanges, including mutual visits by state leaders and their special envoys,” Sun said.

North Korea stops tourist visas as republic’s 70th anniversary approaches

Xi previously visited Pyongyang in 2008, when he was vice-president. That was his first foreign trip after he became China’s heir apparent. The following year, then premier Wen Jiabao also visited the North.

But the relationship between Beijing and Pyongyang began deteriorating after Kim took power in late 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, and accelerated the country’s nuclear and missile development. Beijing has opposed the weapons programme and supported the United Nations sanctions against North Korea.

As a result, no senior Chinese leader has made the trip in recent years, except for Liu Yunshan, who was ranked No 5 in the Communist Party hierarchy when he attended the 70th anniversary event for the founding of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party in 2015.

But strained ties between North Korea and its biggest trading partner, and traditional ally, China, have started to improve this year.

China is meanwhile locked in a trade war with the United States, and US President Donald Trump last month suggested Beijing could “be exerting negative pressure on a deal because of our posture on Chinese trade”. Pyongyang has made slow progress on an agreement signed between Kim and Trump committing to the “complete denuclearisation” of the Korean peninsula.

But Sun said the trade war and relations between Beijing and Pyongyang were two separate issues.

“The China-North Korea relationship has little to do with the imbalance in trade with the US,” Sun said.

Pyongyang is taking advantage of the regime’s 70th anniversary to improve ties. The leaders of the two Koreas will meet again in September, their governments said on Monday. That summit will take place in Pyongyang and will be the third this year between South Korean leader Moon Jae-in and Kim – and only the third time that a South Korean leader has travelled to the North Korean capital for such a meeting.

How the next inter-Korean summit only raises the stakes for South Korea’s Moon Jae-in

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.