China plans to send a senior official to North Korea this week for commemorations of the founding of North Korea’s ruling party, North Korea’s state media said on Sunday.
Liu Yunshan, a leading member of the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, who is ranked fifth in the party hierarchy, will travel to Pyongyang on Friday.
Liu is expected to attend the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party on Saturday, October 10, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). Liu would be the most senior Chinese official to visit North Korea since Kim Jong Un took power in late 2011. The Chinese official is likely to meet with Kim, according to officials and analysts in Seoul.
High-level visit amid tensions
The visit comes amid heightened tension on the Korean peninsula over North Korea’s missile and nuclear threats.
South Korea expressed hope the visit might have an impact on lingering issues.
“The government hopes this round of exchanges between China and North Korea would contribute to easing tension on the Korean peninsula, maintaining stability, bringing progress on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” said Jeong Joon-hee, spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry, during a Monday press briefing.
Pyongyang recently made a series of threats implying a long-range rocket launch and nuclear test. In an apparent response to the move, Chinese President Xi Jinping issued a rare warning against any provocative actions on the peninsula.
Some analysts in Seoul see the visit as Beijing’s attempt to persuade Pyongyang of the danger of taking provocative actions.
“North Korea’s missile test would draw attention from the international community and trigger a U.N. Security Council resolution, which will have implications in the North Korean nuclear issue. China might be trying to induce North Korea to refrain from such actions by dispatching a high-level official,” said Jun Byoung-Kon, a research fellow at Korea Institute for National Unification, South Korea’s state-run research institute.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korea Studies, said Pyongyang may rethink its plan to fire a long-range rocket because of the visit.
“This visit could serve as a turning point in a high-level reciprocal visit by the two sides, which might reduce the chance of Pyongyang’s launching a long-range rocket and increase the chance of improved relations between Beijing and Pyongyang,” said Yang.
Yang added such change may raise the possibility of resolution of issues on the Korean peninsula through dialogue.
Impact of visit unclear
One analyst, however, remains cautious about the significance of Liu’s visit.
Kim Jin-moo, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, a research arm of South Korea’s Defense Ministry, said the visit is not likely to influence Pyongyang’s nuclear posture.
“China’s plan to send a high-level official such as Liu is somewhat unexpected," said Kim. "However, it seems unlikely that Liu’s visit will delay or change Pyongyang’s nuclear ambition.”
Kim said there are major disagreements between Pyongyang and Beijing over North Korea's nuclear development, and that Liu’s visit, which expects to be limited to delivering Beijing’s position to Pyongyang, is unlikely to narrow the gap.
Pyongyang is expected to showcase its military force with a massive parade on the anniversary. Citing satellite imagery, South Korean officials say the communist country is mobilizing its military hardware, including aircraft and missiles, for a rehearsal at an airport near the capital Pyongyang.
Han Sang Mi and Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Korean Service.