China’s Xinhua News Agency reports that President Xi Jinping is sending a senior diplomat to North Korea on Friday as a special envoy.
It’s unclear why Song Tao, who heads the International Liaison Department of China’s Communist Party, is being dispatched. The move comes a week after Xi met with Donald Trump during the US president’s state visit to Beijing amid continuing tension with Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons program.
Song is officially being sent to explain the results of China’s 19th Communist Party Congress in October that cemented Xi into his second five-year term as the party’s undisputed leader.
Trump called on China last week to boost pressure on North Korea to drop its nuclear weapons program. China opposes the North’s nuke efforts and has backed retaliatory sanctions. But some Chinese analysts downplay connecting Song’s mission to Trump’s visit.
“Representatives are dispatched to brief the other side at a chosen time and chosen level. It is a tradition and it is unnecessary to connect it with Trump’s visit to China,” said Guo Rui, researcher at the Institute for North Korean and South Korean Studies at Jilin University in northeastern China, told AP.
Guo, at the same time, acknowledged a recent thaw in relations between Beijing and Pyongyang.
He said the visit “shows China’s willingness to see a continuous development of the friendly relations between the two sides.”
“Although the Korean Peninsula situation has been evolving fast with worrisome indications, the two parties are maintaining normal exchanges, and that is of significance for stabilizing the bilateral relations and the peninsular situation,” Guo said.
Some analysts believe Xi is mending relations with Pyongyang to increase China’s influence in resolving the North Korean crisis.
Korea JoongAng Daily is reporting that Song may meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and other top officials when he is in Pyongyang.
The South Korean newspaper says Song will be the first ministerial Chinese official to visit Pyongyang since October 2015, when Liu Yunshan, then a member of the Chinese Politburo Standing Committee, met with North Korea’s Kim.