SEOUL (REUTERS) - Chinese President Xi Jinping said in an op-ed in North Korean state newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Wednesday (June 19) that China supports North Korea’s "correct direction" in resolving the issue of the Korean peninsula politically.
The front-page op-ed is an honour rarely granted to foreign guests and comes a day before Mr Xi is set to visit Pyongyang on Thursday and Friday at the invitation of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, making him the first Chinese leader to visit in 14 years.
The visit is a sorely needed show of support for Mr Kim, whose campaign of diplomatic outreach and drive to rebuild the economy has suffered since the collapse of the Hanoi summit between him and United States President Donald Trump in February.
As nuclear talks between the US and North Korea remain stalled since the collapse of the summit, and tensions mount between Beijing and Washington over trade and other issues, Mr Xi’s visit kicks off a flurry of high-level diplomatic activity around the Korean peninsula ahead of the Group of 20 summit in Japan later this month.
Mr Xi said that the two Asian countries will "strengthen our strategic communication and exchanges", adding that China will "firmly support" Mr Kim’s "achievements in socialist construction by leading the Workers’ Party and the people through a new strategic route, focusing all his efforts on economic development and improving people’s lives", according to the newspaper.
Mr Xi said North Korea and China would expand and develop relations in civilian sectors, including education, culture, sports, tourism, youth and rural areas.
"We will actively contribute to peace, stability, development and prosperity in the region by strengthening communication and coordination with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea," Mr Xi said. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is North Korea’s official name.
Mr Xi did not directly mention the international sanctions - many of which were imposed with China’s vote at the United Nations – that have been levied in an effort to convince Mr Kim to give up his nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
On Tuesday, China joined Russia in delaying a US request for a UN Security Council sanctions committee to demand an immediate halt to deliveries of refined petroleum to North Korea over accusations that Pyongyang violated a UN cap.