A week after President Donald J. Trump urged China to “work” on the threat of North Korea, Beijing announced that it will send a special envoy to Pyongyang this week.
Xinhua, China’s state-owned news agency, reported on Wednesday morning that Song Tao, head of the International Liaison Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, will fly as a special envoy to North Korea on Friday.
The trip will be the first high-level Chinese visit to North Korea since February 2016.
Xinhua’s brief report said Song will “inform” the North Korean government about the 19th Chinese Communist Party National Congress, held in October. The announcement of Song’s trip did not mention North Korea’s nuclear program.
When asked about whether the timing of Song’s visit to North Korea related to President Trump’s visit, Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Geng Shuang told a press conference that the main purpose of the visit will be to inform North Korea about the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China and also exchange views on the issues of common concerns between the two countries.
He did not directly respond to questions about whether the nuclear issue would be discussed. “Song Tao will be visiting as the special envoy of General Secretary Xi Jinping. The visit is the convention that the two countries have been doing for years,” Geng told reporters during a regular press briefing at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Tao has already visited Vietnam and Laos to formally inform about the outcomes of the 19th congress of China’s Communist Party as part of its tradition of informing its neighbors who share similar political ideology, according to Bloomberg.
A series of weapons tests by Kim Jong Un’s military earlier this year raised tensions in East Asia. In August, North Korea fired a missile over Japan, in what Trump called a “threatening and destabilizing” move.
In Beijing last week as part of his 12-day tour of Asia, Trump said that Beijing can “fix” the issue of North Korea’s provocative weapons testing “quickly and easily.” He urged President Xi to cut financial links with Pyongyang.
China has always maintained that the nuclear issue should be resolved through negotiations rather than imposing sanctions.
China is one of North Korea’s closest allies and the Hermit Kingdom relies heavily on its neighbor for trade in food and energy. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S. think tank, Beijing has traditionally stymied efforts to increase sanctions on North Korea or even discuss allegations of human rights abuses there.