A Chinese special envoy of President Xi Jinping is slated to visit North Korea this week, the DPRK’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and Chinese media reported on Wednesday.
“Song Tao, head of the International Liaison Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, will soon visit the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” KCNA said in an English-language dispatch.
China’s Xinhua news agency on Wednesday said Song will leave for the DPRK on Friday to give North Korean officials a briefing on October’s 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC).
It is not said whether he will meet with Kim Jong Un.
Song visited Vietnam and Laos to brief officials on the 19th CPC National Congress as a special envoy in October and earlier this month.
He will be the first senior Chinese official to have visited the North since Liu Zhenmin, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, who in October last year attended the third meeting of “the Korea-China Border Joint Commission” in Pyongyang.
Song previously visited Pyongyang in October 2015, as part of a delegation of CPC officials led by Liu Yunshan, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau – a visit during which he met with Kim Jong Un.
He also met with a delegation from North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) headed by Ri Su Yong, vice-chairman of the party’s central committee, in Beijing in June last year.
In 2012, Beijing dispatched Liu Qiabao, head of the CPC’s publicity department – along with other party officials – to North Korea, Laos, and Vietnam between November 29 and December 2 to discuss the CPC’s 18th Congress.
During Liu’s visit, Li Jianguo, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), also met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, delivering a letter from China’s leader to Kim Jong Un.
The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said that Seoul is aware of the upcoming visit.
“Both South Korea and China have closely communicated on a frequent basis through diplomatic channel concerning major issues, including North Korean issues,” an official at MOFA – who wished to remain anonymous – told NK News.
But the official said the MOFA did not believe that Beijing was seeking to warm ties or relax pressure on Pyongyang.
“Our understanding is that this visit to North Korea is to brief them on the result of the party congress to socialist countries,” the official said. “But we hope that [Beijing] will deliver a clear message of urging North Korea to come forward to the dialogue venue during this visit.”
One Seoul-based expert said the dispatch of the special envoy was “sudden news,” given strained ties between Beijing and Pyongyang in recent months.
Dr. Andrei Lankov, a director at Korea Risk Group, the parent company of NK News, said that Beijing’s diplomacy traditionally involved “hitting first and suggesting rewards and concessions later.”
“While China strictly implements the resolutions against the North, it can suggest compromise after checking whether Pyongyang is willing to strain a point,” Lankov told NK News. “I believe China dispatched the special envoy to figure out what kind of concessions North Korea can make under the current situation and to find an answer on how much China and the North can compromise.”
Kim Jong Un sent a message to Xi to celebrate his re-election at the party congress in late October, with the Chinese leader later replying that he hoped Beijing and Pyongyang could pursue “sustainable soundness and stable development” in relations.
Another expert said the visit was “potentially significant.”
“China is probably seeking to persuade North Korea to refrain from belligerent actions, which could easily disrupt China’s current efforts to normalize its relations with South Korea,” Balazs Szalontai, a professor at Korea University’s Department of North Korean Studies, told NK News.
“As the recent Sino-ROK agreement showed, Beijing certainly wants to dissuade Seoul from military cooperation with Tokyo,” Szalontai continued. “Under such conditions, the last thing China needs is renewed tension on the Korean Peninsula, because this would disrupt CJK trilateralism and reinforce Japan-ROK security cooperation.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Join the influential community of members who rely on NK News original news and in-depth reporting.
Subscribe to read the remaining 699 words of this article.
Featured Image: Beijing skyline from Jingshan 景山 by Drnantu on 2011-02-01 16:49:30