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North Korea Envoy Wraps Up Visit to China

A car, second from left, believed to be carrying North Korean envoy Choe Ryong Hae, is escorted by a convoy of cars as it leaves Beijing's Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, May 24, 2013.
An envoy from North Korea concluded his visit to Beijing Friday after a series of meetings hailed by Chinese media as a step forward in talks between the two countries.

Choe Ryong Hae, a top officer in North Korea’s military and a confidante of leader Kim Jong Un, met with Chinese officials this week, including Liu Yunshan, the Chinese Communist Party’s fifth-ranked leader. Chinese state media are reporting that North Korea is willing to accept China’s proposal to open up dialogue.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei spoke about the meetings.

He said North Korea hopes to improve upon economic development and wants to create a peaceful external environment. Hong said North Korea is willing to accept China’s proposal to have dialogue with the parties concerned.

Relations between the two countries have weakened since North Korea’s nuclear test in February and China’s support of U.N. sanctions in response to the test. Choe’s visit is the first high-level contact between China and North Korea in six months. Kim Jong Un has not visited China since assuming power in North Korea in 2011.

Choe's visit as Pyongyang's envoy follows an announcement of a U.S.-China summit in California in early June.

Shen Dingli, a professor of International Relations at Fudan University, says North Korea wants its leaders to visit China and to apologize for recent actions that have upset China.

Food shortages also may have influenced the timing of Choe’s visit. South Korean media have reported on a growing famine in North Korea, with Pyongyang asking Mongolia for food aid last week.

“I think the famine is a very important factor which is forcing NK to face squarely with reality, and wants to come back to diplomatic process,” said Wang Dong, a professor of International Relations at Peking University.

Choe is one of a small circle of officials close to Kim Jong Un, a member of the Korean Workers’ Party, the National Defense Commission and vice chairman of the Central Military Commission. On Thursday, in addition to his meetings with Chinese leaders, Choe visited an industrial park.

China has repeatedly urged North Korea to reform its economy and has called for a return to six-party talks.