BEIJING (Reuters) - A senior Chinese diplomat will visit North Korea from Friday as a special envoy of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Beijing said, although it did not say he was planning to discuss North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic programs.
China has repeatedly pushed for a diplomatic solution to the crisis, but in recent months has had only limited high-level exchanges with North Korea. The last time China’s special envoy for North Korea visited the country was in February last year.
In a brief dispatch, the official Xinhua news agency said Song Tao, who heads the ruling Communist Party’s external affairs department, would leave for North Korea on Friday.
He will “inform the DPRK of the 19th CPC National Congress and visit the DPRK”, Xinhua said on Wednesday, using the North’s official name and referring to China’s recently concluded Communist Party Congress at which Xi further cemented his power.
North Korea’s KCNA news agency confirmed the visit, but said only that it would take place “soon”.
The trip will come just a week after U.S. President Donald Trump visited Beijing as part of a lengthy Asia tour, where he pressed for greater action to rein in North Korea, especially from China, with which North Korea does 90 percent of its trade.
It is not clear how long Song could stay, but he has already visited Vietnam and Laos to inform them of the results of the congress, a typical courtesy China extends other communist countries after such important meetings.
It is also unclear whether Song will meet North Korea’s youthful leader Kim Jong Un.
Song’s “main objective” in going to North Korea was to “report on the 19th Party Congress”, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing, adding that it was routine for China and other socialist countries to have such exchanges after important party meetings.
The two countries would also “exchange opinions on matters of mutual concern” during the visit, Geng added.
He reiterated that China was committed to resolving the Korean nuclear issue peacefully through consultation.
Kim and Xi exchanged messages of congratulations and thanks over the Chinese party congress, but neither leader has visited the other’s country since assuming power.
Song’s department is in charge of the party’s relations with foreign political parties, and has traditionally served as a conduit for Chinese diplomacy with North Korea.
A department official said last month that China’s Communist Party continues to hold talks and maintain contacts with its North Korean counterpart, describing the two countries’ friendship as important for regional stability.
China’s new special envoy for North Korea, Kong Xuanyou, who took up his position in August, is not believed to have yet visited the country since assuming the job.
Reporting by Michael Martina and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry and Clare nce Fernandez