China's Xi aims to visit N. Korea next year: Seoul

SEOUL • Chinese President Xi Jinping intends to visit North Korea next year, after receiving an invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, South Korea said yesterday, which would make Mr Xi the first Chinese leader to do so since 2005.

Mr Xi told South Korean President Moon Jae-in, during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum in Papua New Guinea, that he would "make time" to visit North Korea next year.

Mr Xi added that China would continue to play a constructive role in building peace on the Korean peninsula, Mr Kim Eui-kyeom, spokesman for South Korea's Presidential Office, said at a briefing after the meeting between Mr Xi and Mr Moon.

This comes at a time when negotiations between North Korea and the United States appear to have stalled over how to remove Pyongyang's nuclear weapons.

At an unprecedented summit in Singapore in June, US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim agreed to work towards denuclearisation and peace on the Korean Peninsula and establish new relations. But the agreement was short on specifics, and negotiations have made little headway since.

Mr Xi's trip to North Korea would be the first by a Chinese president since his predecessor Hu Jintao's visit in 2005. Mr Xi travelled to North Korea in 2008 as a vice-president.

Amid existing international sanctions on North Korea following its weapons tests, Beijing is Pyongyang's sole major ally and a key economic lifeline for the isolated country.

China appears to have relaxed enforcement of sanctions on Pyongyang, as relations between China and North Korea have thawed after the long-time ally of Beijing began to engage with the US this year, a US congressional commission said earlier last week.

China's account of the bilateral meeting in Papua New Guinea made no mention of Mr Xi planning to go to North Korea. South Korea's Presidential Office issued a transcript of its briefing on the meeting in Port Moresby.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 18, 2018, with the headline 'China's Xi aims to visit N. Korea next year: Seoul'. Print Edition | Subscribe