Chinese Foreign Minister Visits North Korea in Latest Diplomacy Between Countries

Pool File Photo via AP
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong speaks during a bilateral meeting in Manila, Philippines on March 24, 2023.

SEOUL (AP) — North Korea said Friday it was hosting a visit by a Chinese government delegation led by Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong, as it continues its efforts to strengthen ties with Beijing and Moscow in the face of deepening confrontations with Washington.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Sun’s delegation arrived in the capital, Pyongyang, on Thursday after crossing the land border between the countries. The report didn’t provide further details about the visit.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been trying to boost the visibility of its partnership with China and Russia as he tries to break out of diplomatic isolation and strengthen his regional footing by joining a united front against the United States.

Kim traveled to Russia’s Far East in September for a rare summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin and some experts say he is also likely seeking a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

While Kim has prioritized his ties with Russia, which has raised concerns about an arms cooperation that would help fuel Putin’s war on Ukraine, the North Korean leader has also invited senior Chinese officials to major state events in recent months while vowing to strengthen bilateral relations.

A Chinese delegation led by Vice Premier Liu Guozhong attended the celebrations for North Korea’s 75th founding anniversary last September, shortly before Kim’s trip to Russia. In July, Kim invited Chinese ruling party official Li Hongzhong and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to a major military parade in Pyongyang, where he rolled out his most powerful, potentially nuclear-capable missiles targeting the United States, South Korea and Japan.

Sun met with North Korean Vice Foreign Minster Pak Myong Ho last month in Beijing where they discussed strengthening bilateral ties and coordinating over unspecified “issues of common interest.” Pak then also met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, as they pledged to expand friendly exchanges and strengthening “strategic cooperation” in 2024, as the countries mark their 75th anniversary of establishing bilateral ties.

Sun’s visit to North Korea comes as U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan was planning talks with Wang in Bangkok this week in the latest high-level talks between Washington and Beijing amid tensions over trade, technology and China’s assertive foreign policy in the region.

As North Korea’s major ally and economic lifeline, China is a crucial partner for Kim’s efforts to revive an economy crippled by decades of mismanagement and U.S.-led sanctions over his nuclear weapons and missile program, which he has aggressively expanded in recent years despite limited resources.

As permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, both China and Russia have been thwarting U.S.-led efforts to increase sanctions on the North over its intensified weapons testing activity in recent months, underscoring a divide deepened over Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Washington and Seoul have been urging Beijing to use its economic leverage on North Korea to help persuade Kim’s government to return to nuclear disarmament negotiations, which have stalled since 2019.

Experts say trade activities between North Korea and China are gradually expanding since North Korea eased its pandemic restrictions and reopened the border last year.