(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; ADDS details, background throughout)
By Koh Byung-joon
SEOUL, June 19 (Yonhap) -- On the eve of his first visit to North Korea, Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed Wednesday to play a greater role in helping make progress in negotiations on Korean Peninsula issues and addressing Pyongyang's "reasonable" demands through dialogue.
Xi made the pledge in an op-ed piece to the Rodong Sinmun, North Korea's official newspaper, in a rare move seen as part of efforts to emphasize their friendly and close bilateral relations, a day before he visits Pyongyang for the first time since assuming office in 2013.
"We will actively contribute to regional peace, stability, development and prosperity by strengthening communication and coordination with North Korea and other relevant parties to make progress in talks and negotiations on Korean Peninsula issues," Xi said.
Korean Peninsula issues apparently refer to the nuclear standoff between the United States and the North.
Xi said China supports North Korea taking the right direction of politically resolving Korean Peninsula issues, safeguarding peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, and resolving Pyongyang's "reasonable issues of concern" through dialogue.
He didn't elaborate on the reasonable issues of concern, but he appears to mean that China supports a step-by-step and simultaneous denuclearization approach that Pyongyang has demanded in its nuclear talks with Washington.
Xi's remarks were seen as yet another indication that China wants to use its clout over North Korea as a diplomatic card in its intensifying rivalry with the U.S. ahead of a one-on-one showdown between Xi and U.S. President Donald Trump on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit in Japan's Osaka next week.
Nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and the North have been stalled since February's summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ended without an agreement due to wide differences over Washington's demand for concrete denuclearization steps and Pyongyang's demand for sanctions relief.
Hopes for the resumption of the nuclear talks have risen after the North's leader recently sent Trump a goodwill letter last week in time for the first anniversary of their first-ever summit in Singapore, and the U.S. president described the letter as "beautiful" and "very warm."
Xi's two-day state visit to the North will mark the first time in 14 years that a Chinese leader has visited the North, and it comes after Kim visited China four times since last year, including the last meeting in Beijing in January.
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