Special envoy from DPRK arrives

Updated: 2013-05-23 02:38

By ZHAO SHENGNAN in Beijing and CHEN WEIHUA in Washington (China Daily)

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Visit aims to improve ties and communications

China underlined its commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula as Beijing received one of Pyongyang's top military officials on Wednesday as a special envoy from top leader Kim Jong-un.

Special envoy from DPRK arrives

Wang Jiarui (right), the head of the Chinese leadership's international affairs office, meets with DPRK’s Vice-Marshal Choe Ryong-hae, a senior Workers’ Party official and the military’s top political officer, in Beijing on Wednesday. Ding Lin / Xinhua

Choe Ryong-hae, director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People's Army and member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the Workers' Party of Korea Central Committee, arrived in Beijing on Wednesday, accompanied by a handful of senior military and ruling party officials.

Observers said the trip by an envoy — a title Pyongyang rarely uses — aims to improve Pyongyang-Beijing ties and improve mutual communication. Tensions in the region have been inflamed by Pyongyang's third nuclear test in February, which was followed by UN sanctions on Pyongyang and its several recent missile launches.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China has always been committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and solving problems through dialogue and consultation.

"China will continue promoting the Six-Party Talks to realize peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia," he said.

It is the first time that an envoy from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea has visited China since Kim took power in December 2011 and the most senior official to visit China since Jang Song-thaek, vice-chairman of the National Defense Commission of the country, made the trip in 2012.

On Wednesday, Choe met Wang Jiarui, head of the International Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, to "exchange views on the situation on the Korean Peninsula and other issues of common interest", Hong said.

Yu Yingli, an Asia-Pacific studies expert at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, said the visit is important because there have been no high-level direct exchanges between the two countries recently, but China-DPRK relations are not as strained as suggested.

Kim Jong-un hasn't visited Beijing since he succeeded his father, Kim Jong-il, who visited China in August 2011 just months before his death.

Yu said he disagreed that the seizure of a Chinese fishing boat with 16 crew members by the DPRK was Pyongyang's revenge for Beijing's approval of UN sanctions, saying the incident has not affected diplomatic ties between the two neighbors.

"Choe's delegation will also seek aid for the sluggish DPRK economy, while China, whose stance toward the DPRK has not fundamentally changed, is likely to encourage Pyongyang to make positive steps to ease regional tension," she added.

The visit comes before a scheduled June 7-8 summit between President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama, as well as Republic of Korea President Park Geun-hye's visit to Beijing next month.

Professor Yang Moo-jin, of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said the arrangement "will be Kim's way to deliver his message to Obama concerning peace on the Korean Peninsula and the nuclear issue".

"There has been a lot of tough talk on both sides (Washington and Pyongyang), but dialogue is the only realistic way forward," said Charles K. Armstrong, director of the Center for Korean Research at Columbia University, adding that it is quite possible that the Six-Party Talks will resume, perhaps in the summer.

Scott Snyder, a senior fellow at the US Council on Foreign Relations, said the Six-Party Talks can be a way of addressing the nuclear issue, but only if Pyongyang returns to the pledges it made in the joint statement of 2005 regarding its willingness to abandon nuclear program.

AFP contributed to this story.