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China's Xi Jinping arrives in Pyongyang for summit with Kim Jong Un

By Thomas Maresca
China's Xi Jinping arrives in Pyongyang for summit with Kim Jong Un
This image released by the North Korean Official News Service (KCNA) shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing last year to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. File Photo by KCNA/UPI | License Photo

SEOUL, June 20 (UPI) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Pyongyang on Thursday morning for a two-day visit in a move that boosts ties between the two communist countries and may help push forward stalled nuclear negotiations with the United States.

Xi is being accompanied by his wife, Peng Liyuan, Foreign Minister Yang Wi and several Communist Party officials, Chinese state media reported. The visit to North Korea is the first by a Chinese head of state in 14 years and comes as the two countries are celebrating the 70th anniversary of their diplomatic ties.

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The day before his arrival, North Korean daily newspaper Rodong Sinmun ran an op-ed by Xi in which he vowed to help "push forward the political settlement of the Korean Peninsula issue and maintain peace and stability in the region."

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China will "actively contribute to regional peace, stability, development and prosperity by strengthening communication and coordination with the DPRK and relevant parties to jointly push for progress in talks and negotiations on the issue," he wrote, using North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

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Negotiations between the United States and North Korea have been at an impasse since the February summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended abruptly without an agreement.

Xi's visit is a show of support for the North Korean regime, which has seen its economy faltering under American-led international sanctions, as well as a chance for China to assert its influence as a regional power.

China voted to support the toughened international sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council following North Korea's missile and nuclear tests in 2017. But it has since advocated a phased approach to negotiations with the United States, in which some sanctions are lifted in response to North Korea taking steps to dismantle its nuclear program.

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The United States has held out with a "maximum pressure" approach, which calls for complete denuclearization before lifting sanctions.

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A commentary in Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua on Thursday called for negotiators to "refrain from imposing unilateral and unrealistic demands."

The article promoted China's "suspension for suspension" proposal, which it said is "an effective way to create the basic conditions for Washington and Pyongyang as well as other parties to return to the negotiating table."

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The state visit may signal that a new round of diplomacy is coming, with Kim seeking advice and approval from his strongest ally and most important trading partner. The North Korean leader has met with Xi four times over the past year, and those visits came ahead of his first summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in as well as both summits with Trump.

Xi is also slated to meet with Trump on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, next week, and analysts said his trip to North Korea might provide some leverage in China's ongoing trade war with the United States.

"I think the real motive [for the visit] is not the DPRK itself but to remind the United States if they want help on denuclearization and sanctions, that a trade war with China is not that useful," said Théo Clément, a research associate at King's College London who focuses on China-North Korea issues.

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"An interesting way for Xi to pressure the U.S. is to mention some limited economic cooperation with North Korea," he said at a conference on North Korea held in Seoul on Wednesday.

Xi's official schedule includes a summit with Kim and a visit to the Sino-Korean Friendship Tower, a symbol of the relationship between the two countries. North Korea has also reportedly resumed rehearsals of its Mass Games gymnastics spectacle ahead of Xi's visit, leading to speculation that the Chinese president may attend a performance.

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