Xi Jinping sends close ally to North Korea's 70th-year event

China's Parliament chief Li Zhanshu will attend celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the founding of North Korea, on Sept 9, 2018.
China's Parliament chief Li Zhanshu will attend celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the founding of North Korea, on Sept 9, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING • Chinese President Xi Jinping will send a close ally to North Korea's 70th-anniversary celebrations, it was announced yesterday, following speculation he would use the occasion to make his first official trip to Pyongyang.

Mr Li Zhanshu, a member of the Chinese Communist Party's seven-member Politburo Standing Committee or apex ruling council, was invited by the North Korean government and its ruling Workers Party, China's official news agency Xinhua said. Mr Li is also the head of China's legislature.

North Korea's official KCNA news agency said Mr Li's delegation would visit the country from Saturday. The anniversary of the nation's founding in 1948 falls on Sunday.

Mr Xi has not travelled to Pyongyang since coming to power in 2012, as relations worsened over the North's missile and nuclear tests and China's subsequent backing of United Nations sanctions.

Mr Hu Jintao in 2005 was the last Chinese president to visit North Korea. The last senior Chinese leader to visit Pyongyang was premier Wen Jiabao in 2009.

But ties between the allies have improved in recent months, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un making three trips to China this year alone. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Pyongyang in April, the first such visit since 2007.

The Straits Times had reported last month that Mr Xi would attend the anniversary. But the attendance of Mr Li, instead of Mr Xi, at the anniversary event may suggest Beijing wants Mr Kim to make more efforts to resolve international tensions before a presidential visit.

Mr Kim had pledged to work towards the "complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula" during his historic meeting with US President Donald Trump in June in Singapore. But the two sides have since made little headway towards that goal.

Still, Mr Trump expressed his hopes for the "success" of the next inter-Korean summit, Seoul said yesterday.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in is due to travel to Pyongyang later this month for what will be his third meeting with Mr Kim this year. A high-level delegation will fly to the North Korean capital today to discuss the details of Mr Moon's visit.

In a 50-minute phone conversation yesterday, Mr Moon and Mr Trump agreed "to explore the idea of meeting in person on the margins of the UN General Assembly and having in-depth consultations on strategies and how to cooperate on the peninsula issues," Mr Moon's office said in a statement.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2018, with the headline 'Xi sends close ally to N. Korea's 70th-year event'. Print Edition | Subscribe