Jeffrey Feltman (L), the UN's under secretary general for political affairs, shakes hands with an official from the DPRK Foreign Ministry after arriving in Pyongyang. Photo: AFP / Kim Won-Jin

China sent a special envoy and the US has tried back-door diplomacy. Now, the UN has sent one of its senior officials to North Korea.

Jeffrey Feltman, the UN’s undersecretary general for political affairs, arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday for a rare four-day visit. The diplomatic outreach follows the North’s launch of a Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile on November 29.

Korea JoongAng Daily reported that Feltman is the most senior official to visit the country in six years. A UN spokesman said Feltman, who flew in from Beijing, is scheduled to discuss “issues of mutual interest and concern” with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, Vice Minister Pak Myong-guk and other officials.

The UN official’s trip is being watched closely to see if he is serving as an intermediary in helping to resolve a current diplomatic impasse in the North Korean nuclear crisis.

China: too late for military force

Britain’s Sunday Times, in a story picked up by South Korean media, quoted a Chinese expert as saying that Beijing is moving closer to the idea of accepting North Korea as a nuclear weapons state and believes the US should follow suit.

The weekly newspaper quoted Tong Zhao, a researcher at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, as saying that Chinese leaders believe that developments have “passed the point where military force can stop the North Korea acquiring nuclear capability… And there is a belief in Beijing that the US will have to accept that reality, too.”

The Times noted that China “is not happy about a nuclear North Korea… [but] it is, for now, more fearful of risking the collapse of the North if China severed all economic ties.” This would result in “millions of North Korean refugees flooding across its border” and the “specter of American troops and military hardware stationed at China’s border.”