China's parliament chief to visit North Korea to mark its 70th birthday

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s parliament chief will visit North Korea this weekend as President Xi Jinping’s special representative for celebrations marking 70 years since the founding of the country, state news agency Xinhua said.

FILE PHOTO: Li Zhanshu, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), gets ready to speak at the closing session of the NPC at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

North Korea, locked in a standoff with the United States over its nuclear and missile programmes, is preparing to host a number of major events for the Sept. 9 anniversary, including a military parade, possible visits by foreign delegations, and - for the first time in five years - a massive choreographed performance known as the “Mass Games.”

There had been speculation in diplomatic circles that Xi himself would go. Xi and North Korea’s youthful leader, Kim Jong Un, have met three times this year, each time in China.

Xinhua gave few details about the visit of parliament chief Li Zhanshu, who is the third most senior member of China’s ruling Communist Party, in its brief report on Tuesday, aside from saying he would arrive on Saturday.

In a separate reports, the North’s KCNA news agency said Li would visit “from Sept. 8”, without saying how long he would stay.

Kim met U.S. President Donald Trump in June and agreed to “work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula”, but negotiations since then appear to have stalled with both sides increasingly criticising the other for a lack of progress.

Trump last month cancelled a planned visit to North Korea by his top diplomat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, citing insufficient progress in the denuclearization talks.

Trump has also questioned China’s role in helping to resolve the crisis over North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons that threaten the United States, and has said that while China is exerting “tremendous pressure” it is also supplying Pyongyang with “considerable aid”.

China says it is committed to enforcing the harsh U.N. sanctions on North Korea and has also welcomed the talks between Trump and Kim.

China has long feared chaos or war on the Korean peninsula, and has repeatedly called for talks to resolve tensions.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie