SEOUL – Chinese President Xi Jinping intends to visit North Korea next year after receiving an invite from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, South Korea said Saturday.
If he visits, Xi will be the first Chinese leader to do so since 2005.
Xi told South Korean President Moon Jae-in in a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Papua New Guinea that he will “make time” to visit North Korea next year.
Xi added that China will continue to play a constructive role in building peace on the Korean Peninsula, Kim Eui-kyeom, a spokesman for South Korea’s presidential office, said at a briefing after the meeting between Xi and Moon.
This comes at a time when negotiations between North Korea and the United States appear to have stalled over how to remove Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons.
At an unprecedented summit in Singapore in June, U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim agreed to work toward denuclearization and peace on the peninsula and establish new relations. But the agreement was short on specifics, and negotiations have made little headway since.
Any trip by Xi to North Korea would be the first by a Chinese president since his predecessor, Hu Jintao, visited in 2005. Xi traveled to North Korea in 2008 as a vice president.
Amid existing international sanctions on North Korea following its weapons tests, China is Pyongyang’s sole major ally and a key economic lifeline for the isolated country.
China appears to have relaxed enforcement of sanctions on Pyongyang, as relations between China and North Korea have thawed after the long-time ally of Beijing began to engage with the United States this year, a U.S. congressional commission said recently.
China’s account of the bilateral meeting in Papua New Guinea made no mention of Xi planning to go to North Korea.
Xi said that in the past year, the situation on the Korean Peninsula has undergone positive changes returning to the “correct track” of talks, according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement.
“At present, the situation on the peninsula is at a critical stage,” the ministry cited Xi as saying.
China and South Korea should strengthen communication and coordinate the process of promoting the denuclearization of the peninsula and establishing a peace mechanism, Xi said.
“The key is that the parties concerned meet each other half way, show flexibility, and are able to talk and for those talks to get results,” he said.
The two leaders agreed that a second summit between Washington and Pyongyang and a planned visit by Kim to Seoul will be an “important breakthrough” in resolving the situation on the peninsula, according to South Korea’s presidential office.
The South Korean presidential spokesman said Xi is also willing to come to South Korea next year at a convenient time.
South Korea’s presidential office issued a transcript of its briefing on the meeting in Port Moresby.