BEIJING—Chinese leader Xi Jinping will visit North Korea for two days beginning June 20, state media in both countries reported on June 17, making him the first Chinese head of state to visit in 14 years.
Neighboring China is reclusive North Korea’s only major ally, and the visit comes amid renewed tensions between the United States and North Korea over efforts to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.
The invitation was made by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, state media in both countries said.
Since a failed summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim in Hanoi earlier this year, Pyongyang has resumed some weapons tests and warned of “truly undesired consequences” if the United States isn’t more flexible.
Xi’s visit kicks off a flurry of high-level diplomatic activity around the Korean Peninsula, with Trump set to visit ally South Korea after the G-20 summit this month in Osaka, Japan.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s office said he and Xi would hold talks during the G-20.
The visit also comes against a backdrop of mounting acrimony between Beijing and Washington over trade and other issues.
Visit Long Expected
Kim has made four visits to China since March 2018, CCTV reported. The first, conducted largely in secret, was his first known trip abroad since he assumed power in June 2011.
Diplomats had long expected Xi to visit Pyongyang; one Western diplomat in Beijing said it was likely that the Chinese leader had a standing invitation, and had chosen to take it up with the G-20 summit approaching, “It’s Xi showing Trump that China still has an important card to play—North Korea.”
This year marks the 70th year since China and North Korea established diplomatic ties, CCTV noted.
Kim and Trump held a summit last year in Singapore and one in Hanoi this year, but hopes for rapid progress toward denuclearization have faded. The United States demands that North Korea make verifiable progress toward giving up its nuclear weapons before any sanctions are eased.
The United States placed punitive sanctions on North Korea when the reclusive state undertook a series of nuclear and ballistic missile tests in 2017, cutting off its main sources of hard cash.
There has long been skepticism about whether Kim would be willing to give up the nuclear weapons his military had spent decades developing and that, according to many North Korea watchers, he felt ensured his regime’s survival.
North Korea and U.S.-supported South Korea have been locked in an armed standoff since their 1950-53 war ended in a truce, but not a peace treaty.
Amid existing international sanctions on North Korea following its weapons tests, China, which is North Korea’s largest trading partner, remains 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 longtime ally of Beijing began to engage with the United States this year, a U.S. congressional commission said.
Earlier last year, Chinese ships were spotted making illegal shipments to North Korea, violating international sanctions. In response, the U.S. administration announced sanctions in August on Chinese companies involved.
Also, in September 2018, Kim met with Xi three times, raising speculation that the two communist allies were negotiating behind the scenes, without the United States’ input.
The North Korea-China border has seen increased economic activity since denuclearization talks began. Chinese counties near the border were even reported to have set up refugee camps in anticipation of a refugee crisis.
The last Chinese leader to visit North Korea was Hu Jintao in 2005. Xi traveled to North Korea in 2008 as a vice president.
By Huizhong Wu & Tony Munroe. The Epoch Times contributed to this report.