SEOUL/BEIJING-- Chinese President Xi Jinping will send a special envoy to North Korea this week, the countries' state media reported Wednesday, amid strained ties over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.
The trip to Pyongyang on Friday by Song Tao, the head of the international department at the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), comes one week after Xi and U.S. President Donald Trump held a summit in Beijing last Thursday.
The report said that Song will inform North Korea of the results of China's recent party congress, in which Xi cemented his power as he entered his second five-year term.
North Korea's state news agency said in a short dispatch that Song will visit the North "soon," without revealing details.
Trump finished his 13-day tour of Asia Tuesday, which included stops in South Korea and China. Trump has said that China should do more to rein in its wayward neighbor.
North Korea's ties with China, its main ally and economic benefactor, have been frayed over Pyongyang's persistent advancement of its nuclear and missile programs. China has implemented U.N. sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear and missile tests.
"China and North Korea will exchange opinions about issues of mutual concern including party-to-party matters and bilateral ties, along with the party congress," Geng Shuang, spokesman at China's foreign ministry, said in a briefing.
Song may meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who sent a congratulatory message last month to Xi for being reelected as the head of the CPC and expressed hope for better ties.
It would mark the first trip to the North by a high-level Chinese official since October 2016 when Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin visited Pyongyang.
In October 2015, Liu Yunshan, then a member of the CPC politburo standing committee, visited North Korea to watch a military parade to mark the ruling party's founding anniversary.
Experts see the Chinese envoy's planned visit to the North as an attempt by Beijing to share the outcome of not just its recent party congress but also that of the summit held between Xi and Trump.
They also said that it seems to be part of China's efforts to mend ties with neighboring countries, including North Korea, but cautioned that it remains to be seen whether it will herald any "imminent breakthrough" in the current North Korean nuclear stalemate.
"China seems to have been working on mending ties with its neighbors before and after the 19th party congress," said Kim Han-kwon, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy. "It remains to be seen whether that will be part of China's diplomatic strategy or is intended to send a message to the North on its nuclear and missile programs."
North Korea has not carried out any major provocations since Sept. 15, raising expectations that the U.S. could seek direct talks with the North.
Joseph Yun, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, reportedly said at a recent meeting that if North Korea halted nuclear and missile testing for about 60 days, that would be the signal Washington needs to resume direct dialogue with Pyongyang.
On Tuesday, Yun told reporters in Seoul that he does not know why the North has halted its provocations as Pyongyang has not communicated with the U.S. in that regard, but he urged the North to stay provocation-free "for a period of time," adding that it would be a "good start."
Source: Yonhap News Agency