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Senior Chinese envoy arrives in North Korea in bid to ease relations

World News | Published:

Song Tao has arrived in Pyongyang amid US President Donald Trump’s calls for more pressure on North Korea from China.

Choe Ryong Hae, left, vice chairman of the Central Committee of North Korea's ruling party shakes hands with Song Tao, the head of China's ruling Communist Party's International Liaison Department

The highest-level Chinese envoy to North Korea in two years has arrived in Pyongyang to try to improve soured relations between the two nations.

Tensions have risen over Beijing’s tightening of sanctions and expressions of support for US President Donald Trump’s calls for more pressure on the North to abandon its nuclear weapons programme.

Song Tao’s official mission is to brief North Korean officials on the outcome of China’s ruling Communist Party congress held last month.

He is visiting as President Xi Jinping’s special envoy, according to Chinese and North Korean state media, but no other details about his itinerary or whether he will meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have been announced.

The visit is seen as an effort by Mr Xi to explore a new approach in relations and probably also reflects Mr Xi’s desire to head off further pressure from Washington.

China’s relations with North Korea have deteriorated under Kim, who has ignored Beijing’s calls to end the North’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests and return to disarmament talks.

North Korea staged its sixth nuclear test on September 3, detonating what it said was a hydrogen bomb, and most recently launched a ballistic missile on September 15, firing it over the Japanese island of Hokkaido into the Pacific Ocean.

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Choe Ryong Hae, second from right, vice chairman of the Central Committee of North Korea's ruling party talks with Song Tao, fourth from left, the head of China's ruling Communist Party's International Liaison Department, at the Mansudae Assembly Hall, in Pyongyang
(Kim Kwang Hyon/AP)

China, North Korea’s largest trading partner, says its influence with Kim’s government is often exaggerated by the US.

Beijing is opposed to measures that could bring down Kim’s regime and lead to a refugee crisis along its border, and while enforcing harsh new UN sanctions targeting North Korea’s sources of foreign currency it has called for steps to renew dialogue.

The visit comes as Joseph Yun, the US envoy for North Korea, met his South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon on the resort island of Jeju, South Korea.

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“China, of course, has a big role to play on north-east Asia security issues,” Mr Yun was quoted by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency as saying, adding that he hopes China “regards the denuclearisation as a critical goal. We do hope that special envoy will forward that goal.”

Mr Song’s visit to North Korea also comes as China and South Korea repair their relations that soured over Seoul’s deployment of a US anti-missile system.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in is to visit China next month for talks with Mr Xi.

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