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(LEAD) Xi to visit N. Korea amid trade tensions with U.S.

All Headlines 08:28 June 20, 2019

(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 5, 13; RECASTS paras 11-12)
By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, June 20 (Yonhap) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping was set to visit North Korea on Thursday, in a high-profile trip likely to highlight the countries' traditional alliance amid escalating Sino-U.S. competition on trade and other tricky geopolitical fronts.

It will mark the first trip to the North by a Chinese head of state in 14 years and the fifth since Beijing and Pyongyang established diplomatic relations in 1949. Then Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Pyongyang in October 2005.

Xi's two-day trip to the communist ally has raised expectations over his role in the efforts for the resumption of nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang, with some fearing that it could add new geopolitical complexities to the now-deadlocked negotiations.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Jan. 8, 2019 in this photo released by the North's official Korean Central News Agency. (For use only in the Republic of Korea. No redistribution) (Yonhap)

Xi's visit will come before his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump on the margins of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, next week -- an arrangement that triggered speculation that he could use influence over Pyongyang to strengthen his hand in talks with Trump.

It also follows a political setback for Xi in Hong Kong, where the leadership in the semiautonomous Chinese territory suspended a push last week for legislation to allow extraditions to mainland China in the face of pro-democracy protests.

Xi will arrive at Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang, where North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is expected to greet him with a pomp-filled ceremony involving goose-stepping honor guards and flag-waving citizens.

His motorcade will also receive a warm welcome from North Koreans lining both sides of a path leading to the Paekhwawon State Guest House, where he will stay.

His entourage is expected to include Ding Xuexiang, director of the General Office of the Communist Party; Yang Jiechi, director of the party's Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission; Foreign Minister Wang Yi; and He Lifeng of the National Development and Reform Commission.

Xi's official schedule disclosed to the media includes a summit with Kim and a visit to the Friendship Tower, a symbol of the fraternal bond between Beijing and Pyongyang. Xi could also watch a mass gymnastic performance.

Given his relatively short stay in Pyongyang, the summit could take place on his first day. When former leaders, such as Jiang Zemin, visited the North for three days, their summits came on their first day.

In a contribution to the Rodong Sinmun, the daily of the North's ruling Workers' Party, on Wednesday, Xi stressed China's desire to work together with the North to contribute to lasting regional peace, heralding Beijing's involvement in the Korea peace process.

"China will actively contribute to regional peace, stability, development and prosperity by strengthening communication and coordination with the DPRK and relevant parties to jointly push for progress in talks and negotiations on the issue," China's Xinhua News Agency quoted Xi as saying.

DPRK stands for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

China's state media has said that during the summit, Xi and Kim will review the development of bilateral ties over the past 70 years and exchange views on their countries' relations in the "new era" so as to guide future development.

Some observers said that Xi could make pledges of humanitarian support for the impoverished country, which could include food or fertilizers, in a way that does not outwardly flout international sanctions.

Kim has already visited Beijing for summits with Xi four times since March last year. His visits to China came shortly before or after his summits with U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in -- an indication that he and Xi have been in close consultation over summit diplomacy.


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