Beijing sends vice minister and retinue to Pyongyang

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Beijing sends vice minister and retinue to Pyongyang

The South Korean government said it is closely monitoring Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin’s visit to Pyongyang, which comes as the UN Security Council is preparing fresh sanctions on North Korea.

Liu’s arrival in Pyongyang Monday, accompanied by a delegation of some 10 officials, is the first known visit by a high-ranking Chinese diplomat since top nuclear envoy Wu Dawei travelled to North Korea in February.

According to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency, Liu led the Chinese delegation to a meeting of a bilateral border joint committee.

North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test on Sept. 9, following a fourth test in January, prompting the UN Security Council to work on additional measures to sanction Pyongyang as a follow-up to UNSC Resolution 2270 implemented in March. Washington has implemented additional unilateral sanctions, while Tokyo and Seoul are mulling similar independent measures.

Liu’s visit prompted speculation that China and North Korea’s diplomatic relations were not so seriously affected by Pyongyang’s continued nuclear and missile tests, as well as a possible sixth nuclear test in the near future.

His visit coincided with the 66th anniversary of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army’s participation in the 1950-53 Korean War on Tuesday.

Seoul’s foreign ministry said Monday that it was notified by the Chinese Foreign Ministry of Liu’s visit to North Korea and that the purpose was to “focus on discussing issues between China and North Korea.”

“The main purpose of the meeting was to discuss the border issue between North Korea and China,” said Cho June-hyuck, the Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, in a briefing Tuesday. “But our government is watching Vice Minister Liu and the trend related to his visit to North Korea with interest.”

He continued, “China has maintained a consistent position that it will strictly implement UN Security Council Resolution 2270 and after North Korea’s fifth nuclear test it said it will be active in the discussions over a new Security Council resolution.

“Because China’s position has been confirmed on many occasions,” said Cho, “we believe that Vice Minister Liu on this visit to North Korea will maintain such a position.”

The spokesman added, “Our government is continuing to hold strategic dialogues on various issues with China so that it will play a constructive role in the international community pressuring North Korea.”

Over Friday and Saturday, a North Korean delegation led by Han Song-ryol, a vice foreign minister, met in Kuala Lumpur with a group of former U.S. officials including Robert Gallucci, who was part of a U.S. negotiation team in 1994 that reached a landmark deal with Pyongyang on freezing its nuclear weapons program in return for economic incentives.

Lu Kang, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said Monday on this meeting, “We support all efforts, whatever form they may take, as long as they are conducive to restoring the issue back to the track of negotiation.”

Liu’s visit to Pyongyang comes ahead of U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s scheduled trip to Beijing on Saturday for an interim Strategic Security Dialogue. Blinken, after stops in Tokyo and Seoul, is expected to meet Executive Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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