‘Big Move’: China’s Special Envoy Arrives In North Korea

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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A Chinese special envoy is in North Korea, but while some are calling the move a big step, Beijing is trying to keep expectations low.

Song Tao, head of the Chinese Communist Party’s International Department, met Ri Chang Gun, a vice department director of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, Nikkei Asian Review reported. Due to increases in tensions between Beijing and Pyongyang, this visit marks the first high-level exchange in more than a year.

Song is in North Korea to report on the outcomes of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, as well as discuss “other issues of mutual concern,” according to China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency. Some leading experts have noted that such exchanges are “routine,” and others have noted that Song is the lowest-ranking Chinese official Beijing has sent to carry out this task.

President Donald Trump appears to have high hopes for the visit based on his comments on Twitter.

“The president favors China taking a greater role in putting maximum pressure on North Korea,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Thursday, “Any effort to denuclearize the peninsula there in North Korea, then China participating in that, the president certainly supports those efforts.”

The state-run China Daily has already started downplaying the visit. “There has naturally been a lot of conjecture about the content of the latest high-level contact between the two neighbors,” the government-run newspaper wrote in an editorial, “Such speculation is not surprising since the belief persists that Beijing can bring some persuasion to bear on Pyongyang, and Song’s trip comes so soon after Trump’s visit.”

The Friday report suggested that “too much should not be read into his trip.” Beijing has repeatedly stressed that it’s control over North Korea is not as strong as some believe.

Nonetheless, the trip is important and could potentially create an opportunity for discussions on North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Some North Korea watchers have noticed that the North has not tested a nuclear device or launched a ballistic missile in two months, which some observers interpret as a positive sign. Such holds on testing are common this time of year, and North Korea has not yet signaled an interest in dialogue, not until it develops a reliable nuclear deterrent to counter what it calls America’s hostile policy.

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