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Chinese President intends to visit North Korea next year, South Korea says

This file picture, taken from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 8, 2018 and released on May 9, shows China's President Xi Jinping, right, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during a meeting in the Chinese city of Dalian. (Via AFP)

Chinese President Xi Jinping has announced his intention to visit neighboring North Korea next year in response to an official invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, South Korea says.

According to a statement by the South’s presidential office on Saturday, the Chinese leader made the comment during a bilateral meeting with his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in earlier in the day on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit being held in Papua New Guinea.

At a briefing after a bilateral meeting, Kim Eui-kyeom, spokesperson for South Korea’s presidential office, quoted Xi as saying that he would “make time” to visit North Korea next year.

The spokesperson also quoted Xi as saying that Beijing would continue to play a constructive role in building peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Kim Jong-un has visited China twice this year. He first visited China in late March, his first ever trip out of North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), since coming into power in 2011.

He made his second trip on May 7, less than a month after Pyongyang declared that it would suspend its nuclear and missile tests and dismantle a nuclear test site.

Xi, however, has never travelled to the North as president and his expected visit to the neighboring country would make him the first Chinese leader to do so since 2005, when his predecessor, Hu Jintao, visited Pyongyang. Xi travelled to North Korea in 2008 as a vice president.

As an array of crippling sanctions still pressure North Korea for its nuclear and ballistic missile tests, Beijing remains Pyongyang’s sole major ally and a key economic lifeline for the peninsular country.

The visit would further highlight efforts by the Cold War-era allies to improve ties that had chilled as Beijing has supported the UN sanctions over the North’s controversial weapon programs.

In light of South Korean rapprochement and heightened US diplomatic activity since January, Pyongyang has stressed that denuclearization will have to be accompanied by equally motivating US measures, primarily the removal of sanctions.

The North has firmly defended its military program as a deterrent against hostile US policies along with its regional allies, South Korea and Japan.

On Friday, North Korean state media declared that Kim Jong-un had taken part in his first publicized weapons test since the country’s test-launch of an ICBM last November.

Observers believe the simultaneous weapons test and detainee release may signal that North Korea is frustrated with the pace of US peace talks while seeking to keep channels open for future negotiations.

In the past month, North Korea has continuously denounced what it calls “confidence-destroying measures”, warning that it may resume nuclear development if sanctions imposed by Washington remain.

The United Nations Security Council has supported the sanctions since 2006 to choke off funding for the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. 

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