SEOUL • A North Korean diplomat responsible for South-east Asian affairs visited Beijing yesterday, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported, fuelling speculation that he could make a trip to Singapore ahead of the planned summit between United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next month.
North Korean Vice-Foreign Minister Choe Hui Chol was whisked away by embassy officials upon his arrival at the capital's airport yesterday, Yonhap said.
His visit came days after North Korea threatened to walk away from the unprecedented June 12 summit in Singapore if the US continued to demand it unilaterally abandon its nuclear arsenal, which it had developed in defiance of United Nations resolutions, Reuters reported.
The US has demanded the "complete, verifiable and irreversible" dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.
But North Korea has given no indication that it is willing to go beyond statements of broad support for the concept of denuclearisation.
It has said in previous, failed, talks that it could consider giving up its arsenal if the US removed its troops from South Korea and withdrew its so-called nuclear umbrella of deterrence from South Korea and Japan.
Last Thursday, North Korea's chief negotiator called South Korea "ignorant and incompetent" and denounced the joint US-South Korean military drills.
Mr Trump sought to reassure Pyongyang on the same day, saying that he does not have the so-called Libya model in mind for its denuclearisation and that Mr Kim's security would be guaranteed in any deal.
US National Security Adviser John Bolton had gone on television last Sunday to praise the "Libya model" of arms control, under which the late dictator Muammar Gaddafi surrendered his nuclear programme in exchange for an easing of economic sanctions.
Two years later, Gaddafi was overthrown by rebels who hunted down and killed him in the streets, providing an alternative definition of the Libya model.
Mr Trump also said that as far as he knew, the Singapore summit was still on track, but that the North Korean leader was possibly being influenced by Beijing.
China is North Korea's largest trading partner and considers it an important security buffer against US military presence in the region.
Separately, a Yonhap report citing a government source said two North Koreans defected to the South across the Yellow Sea yesterday.
A coast guard official said the relevant authorities were investigating the case, declining to give details.