BEIJING— A top envoy from North Korea is visiting China. His trip comes amid rising tensions between the two countries.
A North Korean official and close confidante of leader Kim Jong Un is in Beijing meeting with Chinese leaders. Choe Ryong Hae arrived Wednesday on a chartered flight along with senior military and ruling party officials from North Korea. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said Choe met with Wang Jiarui, head of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s International Department.
Hong Lei said the two sides exchanged views about the Korean peninsula, and that China is committed to the realization of peace and stability on the peninsula. He also said China continues to urge a return to the six-party talks.
Choe is the first high-ranking North Korean leader to visit China this year. Kim Jong Un has not visited China since he took over the country in 2011. North Korea’s long-range rocket test in December and nuclear test in February have tested relations between the two countries.
“China will regard this as a very important opportunity to try to persuade and pressure North Korea to try and come back to negotiations,” said Wang Dong, a professor of International Relations at Peking University.
China is North Korea’s largest trading partner and source of aid. Current food shortages in North Korea may influence this week’s meetings in Beijing.
“They wanted to send a special envoy because I think they are in a very difficult situation domestically because of the growing famine. They have a real shortage of food," said Wang. "So they have already asked Mongolia for assistance so they are in, I think, a very desperate situation.”
As director of the Korean People’s Army politburo, Choe may also have the power to compromise and offer China concessions. His visit to Beijing precedes an upcoming summit in June between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama.