Xi could make first visit to Pyongyang in Sept.

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Xi could make first visit to Pyongyang in Sept.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to make his first visit to Pyongyang since assuming power next month to attend celebrations of the 70th anniversary of North Korea’s founding, according to a news report Saturday.

Without citing a source, the Singapore-based Strait Times reported that it understood Xi would visit Pyongyang for the anniversary at the invitation of the North Korean leader. The Kim Jong-un regime is said to be preparing a large parade to mark the occasion.

The report did not specify the date Xi will land in Pyongyang or how long he will stay there, but the celebrations are set to take place on Sept. 9.

If realized, it will be Xi’s fourth meeting with the North Korean leader and will likely fall shortly before the third inter-Korean summit meeting to take place in Pyongyang at some point next month.

Xi first met Kim when the young North Korean leader visited Beijing in March - Kim’s first official overseas visit - amidst a fast-changing diplomatic landscape that led to the two inter-Korean summits and a North-U.S. summit.

The March meeting ended Xi’s apparent refusal to meet with Kim out of frustration over the North’s nuclear and missile tests.

After the first Xi-Kim summit in Beijing in March, Kim made another visit to Beijing in May to meet Xi. The two again met in the easternmost coastal city of Dalian the following month.

Xi’s expected visit to Pyongyang comes as China and the U.S. are locked in a trade war triggered by U.S. President Donald Trump, which has led to the weakening of the Chinese yuan and a dip in economic indicators such as industrial output. The Chinese market has been shaken by speculation that Trump will emerge victorious in the ongoing trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies.

Some experts believe that Xi could seek to use his meeting with Kim not only to raise his leverage over the North Korean denuclearization deal, but also in ongoing trade disputes with the Trump administration.

If Xi does visit Pyongyang it will be the first visit by a Chinese leader to North Korea since the 2005 trip by Hu Jintao, Xi’s predecessor. Xi visited Pyongyang in 2008 as vice-president, his first foreign visit after he became heir-apparent to succeed Hu, who completed his two five-year terms and was succeeded by Xi in 2013.

“The North appears willing to have Xi in Pyongyang as a traditional ally as this year marks its 70th state founding. This is Xi’s turn to travel to Pyongyang for a summit with Kim as the three previous meetings were held in China,” said Koh Yu-hwan, professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul.

The professor, however, said China appeared to be weighing the pros and cons of having Xi travel to Pyongyang amid uncertainty over the direction of the North-U.S. talks on denuclearization.

“While Beijing wants to be a facilitator in denuclearization talks, it does not want to be blamed by the U.S. that it is exerting sway on the North to make it harder [for the North-U.S. talks] to succeed,” continued Koh, noting that China had yet to confirm Xi’s visit. Trump suggested last month that China might be behind the stalled North-U.S. talks, saying it may have been “negative pressure” on the June 12 Kim-Trump joint agreement struck in Singapore in which the North agreed on the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

“I have confidence that Kim Jong Un will honor the contract we signed &, even more importantly, our handshake,” the former real estate mogul tweeted on July 9.

“China, on the other hand, may be exerting negative pressure on a deal because of our posture on Chinese Trade-Hope Not!”

North Korea reportedly agreed to an on-site inspection of its missile launch site by a group of inspectors from the UN International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), according to Kyodo News on Sunday, citing officials from the ICAO.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]
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