Fol­low­ing Trump visit, China will send en­voy to N. Korea

Houston Chronicle - - WORLD - By Christo­pher Bodeen

BEI­JING — Fol­low­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s visit to Bei­jing, China said Wed­nes­day it is send­ing a high-level special en­voy to North Korea amid an ex­tended chill in re­la­tions be­tween the neigh­bors over Pyongyang’s nu­clear weapons and mis­sile pro­grams.

Song Tao, the head of China’s rul­ing Com­mu­nist Party’s In­ter­na­tional Li­ai­son Depart­ment, will travel to Pyongyang on Fri­day to re­port on out­comes of the party’s na­tional congress held last month, the of­fi­cial Xin­hua News Agency said.

Xin­hua said Song will carry out a “visit” in ad­di­tion to de­liv­er­ing his re­port but gave no de­tails about his itin­er­ary or meet­ings. It also made no men­tion of Trump’s trip to Bei­jing or the North’s weapons pro­grams, al­though Trump has re­peat­edly called on Bei­jing to do more to use its in­flu­ence to pres­sure Pyongyang into al­ter­ing its be­hav­ior.

Song would be the first min­is­te­rial-level Chi­nese of­fi­cial to visit North Korea since Oc­to­ber 2015, when Polit­buro Stand­ing Com­mit­tee mem­ber Liu Yun­shan met with leader Kim Jong Un. Liu de­liv­ered a let­ter to Kim from Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, ex­press­ing hopes for a strong re­la­tion­ship, al­though the respite in frosty ties proved short lived. Vice For­eign Min­is­ter Liu Zhen­min vis­ited Pyongyang in Oc­to­ber of last year.

China’s Com­mu­nist Party and North Korea’s rul­ing Work­ers’ Party have long­stand­ing ties that of­ten su­per­sede for­mal diplo­macy, even while Bei­jing has long been frus­trated with Pyongyang’s provo­ca­tions and un­will­ing­ness to re­form its econ­omy.

China is also North Korea’s largest trad­ing part­ner and chief source of food and fuel aid, al­though it says its in­flu­ence with Kim’s regime is of­ten ex­ag­ger­ated by the U.S. and oth­ers. While it is en­forc­ing harsh new U.N. sanc­tions tar­get­ing the North’s sources of for­eign cur­rency, Bei­jing has called for steps to re­new di­a­logue.

Bei­jing is also op­posed to mea­sures that could bring down Kim’s regime, pos­si­bly de­priv­ing it of a buf­fer with South Korea and the al­most 30,000 U.S. troops sta­tioned there, and lead­ing to a refugee cri­sis and chaos along its bother with the North.

In Bei­jing last Thurs­day, Trump urged Xi to pres­sure North Korea to give up its nu­clear weapons pro­gram.

China can fix the prob­lem “eas­ily and quickly,” Trump said in remarks to jour­nal­ists along­side Xi. He urged Xi to “hope­fully work on it very hard.”

“If he works on it hard, it will hap­pen. There’s no doubt about it,” Trump said.

While call­ing the visit sig­nif­i­cant, a top Chi­nese ex­pert on North Korea re­la­tions down­played any con­nec­tion with Trump’s state­ments in Bei­jing, say­ing it fit a pat­tern of tra­di­tional ex­changes be­tween the two par­ties fol­low­ing sig­nif­i­cant events such as na­tional con­gresses.

“Rep­re­sen­ta­tives are dis­patched to brief the other side at a cho­sen time and cho­sen level. It is a tra­di­tion and it is un­nec­es­sary to con­nect it with Trump’s visit to China,” said Guo Rui, re­searcher at the In­sti­tute for North Korean and South Korean Stud­ies at Jilin Univer­sity in north­east­ern China.

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