North Korea Sends Envoy to Beijing

North Korea has sent a high-level envoy to Beijing in an apparent effort to patch up tense relations as international pressure mounts over Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions. From the New York Times:

The envoy, Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae, who serves as director of the general political bureau of the North Korean People’s Army, met in Beijing with Wang Jiarui, the head of the international department of the Chinese Communist Party, said Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency, in a report that gave no details of the talks.

His trip is North Korea’s first serious dabbling in diplomacy after months of bellicose pronouncements, including threats to launch nuclear strikes at the United States and its allies. It also comes as Japanese officials set off fears of a policy discord with allies by signaling a willingness to open a greater dialogue, including possible summit talks, with North Korea.

Marshal Choe, 63, is the first senior North Korean official to visit China since August and the first to go there in the capacity of special envoy. He is most likely the highest-profile envoy Mr. Kim could have chosen to visit China, having risen to the top military leadership under Mr. Kim, who has tried to consolidate his power at home while intensifying a standoff with Washington and its allies over his country’s nuclear and missile programs.

“The fact that Kim Jong-un sent a special envoy means that he has something quite urgent to discuss with China, and the fact that his special envoy was his top military officer suggests that China wants to talk about the North’s nuclear and missile programs,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior analyst at the Sejong Institute in South Korea. [Source]

Earlier this week, a group of Chinese fishermen were held for ransom in North Korea, further heightening tensions between the two countries, which have increased since Kim Jong-un took over power in 2011.The Guardian has more on the complicated relationship between the two neighbors:

China provides North Korea with the vast majority of its fuel and trade – reportedly accounting for almost nine-tenths of its imports and exports in 2011 – and its support has become even more important as Pyongyang’s relations with Seoul have deteriorated.

But it has shown increasing signs of frustration with the regime over its weapons programmes and angry rhetoric.

“Since North Korea had the third nuclear test [in February], the relationship between China and North Korea has been pretty tense. To ease the relationship, the visit is very normal and necessary. It helps to stop the bilateral relationship deteriorating,” said Cai Jian of the Centre for Korean Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai. “This visit shows China is also willing to improve the relationship with North Korea.”

China’s state news agency, Xinhua, said Choe, 63, met Wang Jiarui, head of the international department of the Communist party. It gave no further details. [Source]

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