High-ranking Chinese diplomat to visit North Korea

Aaron Brown
April 13, 2018

Both sides have since sought to improve ties, with North Korea's Kim Jong Un meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping last month in Beijing - the young leader's first known official trip overseas.

Song Tao, who serves as head of the International Liaison Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), and the art troupe will participate in the 31st April Spring Friendship Art Festival (ASFAF).

The chairman's seat (center), presumably for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, is vacant at a Supreme People's Assembly session in Pyongyang on Wednesday, in this photo released by the [North] Korean Central News Agency on Thursday.

This photo, carried by North Korea's Rodong Sinmun on March 28, 2018, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (L) meeting with Song Tao (R), the head of the worldwide department at the Central Committee of the Communist Party, in what appears to be a special train that carried Kim to China.

The festival is held in Pyongyang as part of the commemorations for the anniversary of the birth of the North's founder Kim Il Sung on April 15, 1912. Wednesday's assembly meeting comes just a few weeks ahead of the first summit the two Koreas will have in more than a decade on April 27. This year's event will be held from Wednesday to next Tuesday.

For years China was North Korea's sole major ally, but their relations have become strained over the past couple of years over Pyongyang's relentless testing of ballistic missiles and nuclear devices.

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Song's trip "is an important cultural exchange activity to follow through on the consensus reached by the two heads of state", Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular press briefing.

Seoul, Baik added, "will watch with interest whether it will lead to a performance in China by North Korean artists that was cancelled in December 2015".

China, the North's only ally and main economic benefactor, has been implementing tough global sanctions against North Korea.

President Donald Trump offered a timeline Monday, saying the summit would be held in May or early June, but the communist state had largely maintained silence on the issue after delivering an invitation via South Korean envoys.

Song was reported to have greeted Kim at the train station, participated in the DPRK-China summit, and attended the subsequent banquet hosted by Xi, according to KCNA reports.

Song visited Pyongyang in November, becoming the last high-level Chinese official to do so. "It seems that the North-China relations are fast normalizing", said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.

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