BEIJING (AFP) - China’s foreign minister will visit North Korea this week, his office said Monday (April 30), becoming the highest-ranking Chinese official to travel there in years as Beijing moves to further improve ties with Pyongyang days after a landmark inter-Korean summit.
The Chinese foreign ministry said in a brief statement that Wang Yi will visit North Korea on Wednesday and Thursday at the invitation of his North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong Ho.
The two met in Beijing in early April, days after talks between President Xi Jinping and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the Chinese capital – the first meeting between the leaders since Kim inherited power from his father Kim Jong Il in 2011.
Wang will be the first Chinese foreign minister to visit the North since 2007, a lapse that highlights the rough patch that relations between the Cold War-era allies has gone through in recent years.
Former premier Wen Jiabao visited Pyongyang in 2009.
China has backed a series of United Nations sanctions against Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons programme.
But Beijing is likely eager to avoid being marginalised in the wave of diplomacy that has led to last Friday’s historic summit between Kim and the South’s President Moon Jae In.
Now Kim is expected to meet with US President Donald Trump in the coming weeks at a time and place that have yet to be decided.
The North Korean leader has also invited Xi to visit Pyongyang, but no date has been set yet.
At their summit in the Demilitarised Zone, Kim and Moon agreed to pursue the complete denuclearisation of the peninsula.
They also decided to seek a peace treaty by the end of the year and hold talks with the United States, and possibly China, to achieve it.
The Korean War ceased in 1953 with an armistice rather than a peace treaty. China fought on the North’s side.
While China has backed punitive measure against the North, analysts say that Beijing could worry that the diplomatic thaw could lead to a deal between Pyongyang and Washington that goes against its interests.
Beijing has supported the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and has condemned Pyongyang’s nuclear tests.
But a divided Korea has played in its favour as the North serves as a buffer from the South, where US troops are stationed. Despite recent tensions, China remains the North’s sole major ally and top economic partner.
In the latest major diplomatic announcements, Seoul said on Sunday that Pyongyang has promised to shut its nuclear test site within weeks and invite American weapons experts to verify its closure.
Kim also said Pyongyang would have no need for nuclear weapons if it were promised it would not be invaded, according to Seoul.