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North Korean foreign minister to visit China this week

BEIJING (Reuters) - North Korea’s foreign minister will visit China this week for three days to meet senior officials and discuss the situation on the Korean peninsula, China’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: North Korea's Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho attend a bilateral meeting with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Singapore, August 3, 2018. REUTERS/Feline Lim

China is North Korea’s most important economic and diplomatic backer, despite its anger at the country’s nuclear and missile programmes.

Ties have warmed in the last year, as Pyongyang’s relations with both Seoul and Washington have also improved dramatically.

Ri Yong Ho will also meet the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, during a visit set to run from Thursday until Saturday, said Geng Shuang, a spokesman for the foreign ministry.

The two will have a “deep exchange of views” on China-North Korea relations, the situation on the Korean peninsula and other issues of mutual concern, Geng told a daily news briefing, without giving details.

The visit will have a positive effect on promoting ties, as well as on communication and cooperation on Korean peninsula and other issues, he added.

Geng declined to comment when asked if the two sides would discuss plans for a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to North Korea, saying he had no information he could provide.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has visited China three times this year for meetings with Xi. Diplomatic sources say Xi will probably go to North Korea at some point soon.

On Saturday, U.S. President Donald Trump said he was likely to meet Kim again in January or February, with three sites being considered for their second meeting.

The two countries have been engaged in talks for a second meeting after their leaders’ unprecedented June summit in Singapore, Reuters reported in October, citing a senior official.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez