China will send a senior diplomatic envoy to North Korea for the first time in two years this week.
Song Tao, special envoy of Chinese President Xi Jinping and the head of the international department of the Communist Party of China, will travel to Pyongyang on Friday, Beijing’s state-run Xinhua News Agency reported Wednesday. North Korean state media also confirmed the visit.
Relations between Beijing and Pyongyang have been strained in recent years. North Korea’s repeated provocations — ballistic missile and nuclear weapons tests — have angered Beijing, and China’s decision to increase pressure on North Korea in cooperation with the U.S. and international community has infuriated Pyongyang. The last ministerial-level Chinese official to visit North Korea did so in October 2015, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
North Korea has reportedly been unwilling to meet Xi’s special envoy for quite some time as ties between China and North Korea have become increasingly frayed, but Pyongyang and Beijing have made overtures to one another in recent weeks.
After the recent 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un congratulated Xi for achieving “great success.” Xi reportedly sent a response to Kim that expressed a desire for better ties.
“I wish that under the new situation the Chinese side would make efforts with the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] side to promote the relations between the two parities and the two countries to sustainable soundness and stable development and thus make a positive contribution to providing the peoples of the two countries with more wonderful happiness and defending regional peace and stability and common prosperity,” Xi reportedly wrote back.
Song’s visit will likely be a small step, and is unlikely to dramatically impact the security situation on the Korean Peninsula.
“China and the DPRK will exchange views on relations between the two parties and the two countries, as well as on other issues of mutual concern,” Geng Shuang, a foreign ministry spokesman, told reporters Wednesday.
Song’s trip to Pyongyang follows President Donald Trump’s five-nation tour of Asia, during which he pressed Xi to rein in North Korea. “Time is quickly running out, and we have to act fast,” Trump said in Beijing.
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