Beijing on Tuesday said the timing of President Xi Jinping’s visit to North Korea before the G20 summit in Osaka and amid ongoing trade negotiations was not a signal to Washington or U.S. President Donald Trump.
Speaking during a regular press briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang said Xi’s visit was to further develop relations between Pyongyang and Beijing.
“As for whether China is using President Xi’s state visit to the DPRK as some kind of ‘leverage’, I must say people with such an idea are just over-thinking,” Lu told reporters.
The Foreign Ministry denied that Xi’s visit came at a “sensitive” time, in reference to a trade dispute with Washington which has seen both sides levy tariffs on each other’s goods.
“I am sure you are aware that it has been over a year since China-U.S. trade friction started and the two sides began to hold consultations. I don’t see why the present is any more sensitive than any time between then and now,” Lu said.
“On the Hanoi meeting between the U.S. and DPRK leaders in February, perhaps to many people it ended in an unexpected way. Ever since then, China has been hoping to see the situation heading toward resumption of dialogue. I fail to see how the present is any more sensitive than February.”
But speaking to NK News, Peter Ward, a writer and researcher focused on the North Korean economy, said there could be more to the timing of the visit than Beijing is willing to announce.
“It can be read as a sign of growing Chinese impatience with the status quo on sanctions, and/or perhaps a sign that economic support for Pyongyang may be set to increase,” Ward said.
“Perhaps Beijing is considering a new approach to North Korean diplomacy because of the deepening trade war with the United States,” he added. “We shall have to see.”
During the briefing, the Chinese Foreign Ministry also encouraged North Korea and the U.S. to move past their current impasse, with talks between the two sides currently stalled.
“(The resumption of dialogue) will be great! China has been encouraging the U.S. and the DPRK to resume dialogue,” Lu said.
China’s Foreign Ministry added that Xi’s visit – the first from a Chinese leader since 2005 – will help the two sides further deepen relations, with advancing “communication and cooperation in various areas” on the agenda for Xi’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“(Kim and Xi) will talk about domestic development and further exchange views on the Peninsula situation to work for new progress in its political settlement,” Lu added.
Also on Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump said via social media that he spoke with the Chinese leader over the phone regarding their upcoming meeting at the G20 in Osaka.
A White House press release for the call noted the two sides “discussed regional security issues,” though did not directly mention North Korea.
Speaking to NK News on Monday in answer to a question on Xi’s visit to the DPRK, the U.S. State Department said that Washington and China shared a commitment to North Korea’s denuclearization.
“The United States and the international community have a shared understanding of what final, fully verified denuclearization entails and what meaningful progress toward that goal looks like,” a State Department spokesperson told NK News.
“We will continue to closely coordinate with allies and partners, and other permanent members of the UN Security Council, including China.”