North Korea sending team to Silk Road summit, says China

Belt and Road Forum starting on Sunday will draw leaders from 28 countries to Beijing

BEIJING • China's Foreign Ministry yesterday said North Korea will be sending a delegation to next week's summit on President Xi Jinping's ambitious new Silk Road project.

Leaders from 28 countries will attend the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing on Sunday and Monday, an event orchestrated to promote Mr Xi's vision of expanding links between Asia, Africa and Europe, underpinned by billions of dollars in infrastructure investment.

"According to what I understand, the North Korean side will send an official delegation to relevant events at the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation that will shortly be taking place," spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily briefing. He did not elaborate.

China's announcement came amid signs that there could be an opening to get North Korea back to the negotiating table following heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula.

For weeks North Korea had traded barbs, with the Trump administration warning that military options were being considered.

But President Donald Trump has softened his message recently, saying he would be "honoured" to meet leader Kim Jong Un.

China's announcement came amid signs that there could be an opening to get North Korea back to the negotiating table following heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula.

For weeks North Korea had traded barbs, with the Trump administration warning that military options were being considered.

But President Donald Trump has softened his message recently, saying he would be "honoured" to meet leader Kim Jong Un.

North Korean officials on Monday began informal talks with a group of American experts in the Norwegian capital Oslo, amid speculation that Washington may be seeking dialogue with Pyongyang, diplomatic sources told Yonhap news agency.

It is their first Track II meeting in half a year. The previous session was held in Geneva, Switzerland.

Yonhap reported that Mr Kim Yong Jae, the North Korean minister of external economic relations, would lead the delegation to the international forum.

China is North Korea's neighbour and only major ally and the US has pressed it to use its influence to rein in Pyongyang.

Meanwhile, North Korea's state media yesterday praised leader Kim Jong Un's accomplishments, saying the country has withstood what it calls US nuclear blackmail and sanctions. May 9 was the first anniversary of his election as chairman of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea.

The Trump administration has pushed for tougher economic sanctions against the North and Beijing has imposed a ban on coal imports from the North, its main export.

In a sign of strained ties between the two allies, Pyongyang's official news agency issued a rare and stinging denunciation of its chief ally and diplomatic backer.

Beijing should be grateful to Pyongyang for its protection as a buffer state, said a bylined commentary carried by the Korean Central News Agency, warning of "grave consequences" if China tests its patience further.

In response, China's Global Times newspaper retorted that the nuclear-armed North was in the grip of "some form of irrational logic" over its weapons programmes.

Analysts in South Korea have said that the North was trying to import more Russian oil to lessen its fuel dependence on China.

Pyongyang is also believed to send workers to Russia to earn foreign currency, reported New York Times.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2017, with the headline 'North Korea sending team to Silk Road summit, says China'. Print Edition | Subscribe