Chinese President Xi Jinping will arrive in North Korea on Thursday for a two-day state visit, his first official trip to the country since he came to power in 2012.
Xi is making the trip “at the invitation” of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Xinhua reported Monday. North Korean state media also confirmed the visit.
The meeting takes place a week before G20 summit in Japan, where Xi is expected to meet with US President Donald Trump, and comes as nuclear negotiations between North Korea and the United States have stalled.
Relations between the two countries had been in a deep chill under the North Korean leader until recently, but an unexpected visit by Kim to China in March 2018 signaled the beginning of a new era of Beijing-Pyongyang relations.
In the preceding years, Kim had purged several key officials with close ties to Beijing, including his uncle Jang Song Thaek. He had also angered China through his provocative missile and nuclear testing, which went against Beijing’s goal of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.
However since that visit early last year, Xi and Kim have met four times, with China even lending the young North Korean leader a plane to attend a June 2018 summit with Trump in Singapore.
The Chinese President was originally rumored to be planning a visit to Pyongyang that same month, but the trip never materialized.
This week’s state visit will make Xi the first Chinese leader to visit North Korea since his predecessor, Hu Jintao visited in 2005.
China is North Korea’s number one trading and economic partner, and is Pyongyang’s only major military ally.
South Korea hopeful that Xi’s visit helps denuclearization
South Korea said Monday that it hopes Xi’s visit to North Korea would aid efforts towards denuclearization and peace on the Korean peninsula.
In a written statement, the country’s Presidential Blue House spokesman said the government had been aware of Xi’s intention to visit North Korea since last week.
Seoul had been closely cooperating with the Chinese government “in the belief that President Xi Jinping’s visit will contribute to the peaceful resolution of the Korean peninsula’s issues,” the spokesman added.
South Korea and China have agreed to hold bilateral talks at the G20 next week and the specifics of the meeting are still being discussed.