Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to travel to North Korea this week for a two-day visit, ahead of a possible meeting between Xi and President Donald Trump of the United States at next week’s G-20 summit in Japan.
Analysts suggest the talks will serve to reinforce ties between the two long-standing allies and send a message to Washington.
Announcing the visit, Chinese national broadcaster CCTV said Xi will meet North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un on Thursday and Friday.
“Both sides will exchange views on the peninsula situation and push for new progress in the political resolution of the issue.”
The visit coincides with the 70th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic ties between the two governments.
Trump is also planned to travel to South Korea after the G20 summit in the Japanese city of Osaka at the end of June.
Commenting on the visit, Ahn Yinhay, a professor of international relations at Korea University in Seoul, told the Telegraph that Xi could offer a plan for Pyongyang and Washington to resume formal talks and also be looking to gain leverage with Trump as the US-China trade war continues to simmer.
“By holding a summit with Mr Kim, the Chinese will be indicating to the US and South Korea that they can act as a coordinator for the denuclearization talks and that they are able to lead Mr Kim back to the negotiating table,” she said.
In return, Ahn said President Xi was likely to seek progress in ending the worsening trade war with the United States.
Elsewhere in her remarks, Ahn said the planned visit would also seek to strengthen military ties between Beijing and Pyongyang.
“I also expect the two leaders to say that they are strengthening their military alliance, which is important to Mr Kim”, she said. “He wants to show the US that China is behind his country and if the US tried to use the military option then the Chinese would come to his assistance.”
Last month, North Korea fired a series of short-range missiles in weapons tests that were seen as a sign of Pyongyang’s frustration with the US over the lack of progress in getting sanctions relief. It followed Kim and Trump’s Hanoi summit in February that was the second meeting between the two and ended abruptly without an agreement.
Pyongyang recently lashed out at John Bolton, Trump’s national security advisor, after he criticized North Korea’s missile testing as a violation of UN resolutions. Bolton also insisted sanctions must stay in place against what he described as the hermit regime.
North Korea has been pushing for full removal of U.S. and UN sanctions that have targeted Pyongyang for its nuclear and missile programs. Officials in North Korea are said to have wanted some relief from sanctions in return for last year destroying the country’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site.
Media reports also suggest that Kim may want economic assistance for his country of about 23 million people. China represents about 90% of North Korea’s external trade, including most of its imported food and energy supplies.