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China’s Xi to meet North Korea’s Kim in Pyongyang ahead of G-20

China's President Xi Jinping attends the 10th BRICS Leaders' Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, on July 26, 2018. (Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press And Information Office/TASS/Abaca Press/TNS)
June 17, 2019

Chinese President Xi Jinping will travel to North Korea on Thursday for talks with Kim Jong Un, state media in Beijing and Pyongyang reported.

The state visit will take place on June 20-21, China’s official Xinhua News Agency and the Korean Central News Agency reported Monday, without elaborating.

This will be Xi’s first visit as Chinese leader to North Korea and the first by China’s top official in about 14 years to the impoverished state that depends on Beijing for economic support. It comes ahead of next week’s Group of 20 summit in Japan that’s expected to be attended by Xi and U.S. President Donald Trump as well as Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

“This trip to North Korea is part of China’s strengthening of neighboring diplomacy against the backdrop of a China-U.S. trade war,” said Wang Sheng, professor of international politics of Jilin University. “The move is also intended to make it clear to the United States that China’s role cannot be overlooked, whether it is in Northeast Asia or a multinational occasion as the G-20.”

The visit comes after a Feb. 28 meeting between Kim and Trump collapsed in Hanoi, in a fight over the U.S.-backed sanctions that are pressuring North Korea’s economy. Beijing is North Korea’s biggest backer, and Xi’s visit continues a pattern of close coordination between the neighbors during negotiations with the U.S. over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

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Kim last month oversaw a live-fire military exercise that potentially included North Korea’s first ballistic missile launch since 2017, while stopping just short of challenging Trump’s bottom line by continuing a moratorium on intercontinental ballistic missile firings and underground nuclear tests.

Even so, despite Trump’s frequent praise of Kim — declaring last week that the dictator had sent him a “beautiful letter” — there’s no evidence a year after their first meeting that North Korea has made a strategic decision to give up its nuclear weapons program, according to people familiar with the talks.

Xi’s visit may contribute to the early reopening of denuclearization talks, South Korea’s presidential spokeswoman Ko Min-jung said Monday.

Trump and his aides contend that sanctions continue to bite, even if enforcement may have loosened, particularly along the border with China. And the president believes that as long as North Korea isn’t testing long-range, nuclear-capable missiles, the threat is vastly reduced.

Kim visited China three times in 2018, including in June, a week after his first summit with Trump. In January this year, just a month before his second summit with Trump, Kim and his wife Ri Sol Ju went to Beijing. That trip laid the ground for his subsequent meeting with the U.S. president.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-wha held talks in Moscow Monday and discussed the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

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© 2019 Bloomberg News

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.