China sends delegate to North’s memorial event

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China sends delegate to North’s memorial event

China’s vice president is paying a visit to North Korea to attend the festivities commemorating the 60th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the North’s media mouthpiece, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

A post by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei on the ministry’s Web site yesterday said that Li Yuanchao, known as the No. 8 man on China’s political ladder, is leading a special delegation on a visit that begins today and runs until Sunday.

Both the KCNA and Hong confirmed that the delegation was invited by North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly and cabinet.

But they used different expressions in referring to the day the armistice was signed. Pyongyang called it “war victory day,” while China referred to it as “Choson War day.” Choson is an old name for Korea.

The vice president is the highest-ranking Chinese official to officially visit the country since Kim Jong-un came to power in December 2011. Bilateral relations between the communist allies have soured due to a series of military provocations from North Korea, which conducted its third nuclear test in February.

It appears to be the first time a high-profile Chinese official visited the North to mark the anniversary, according to Kim Hyung-suk, the spokesman of the South Korean Unification Ministry. “As far as we know, neither North Korea nor China have ever officially reported a visit from a Chinese official to the regime for the anniversary,” Kim said.

The armistice halted the Korean War without a peace treaty or a cease-fire, meaning that the two Koreas have technically remained at war since.

Political analysts are closely watching whether Li will meet with Kim Jong-un during the trip and deliver a letter from Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

No Chinese officials have visited the North since Li Jianguo, a member of the Chinese Politburo, went to Pyongyang in November 2012 and met with Kim. North Korea has not said that it will abandon its nuclear weapons program, which China opposes along with the UN Security Council. At the same time, the reclusive state is proposing talks with the outside world, including South Korea and the United States.

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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