November 15, 2017 05:48 GMT by theguardian.com

North Korea and China announce visit by Xi Jinping envoy

North Korea and China announce visit by Xi Jinping envoy

Unclear if illegal nuclear programme is on the agenda after Donald Trump asked Chinese president to put pressure on neighbour

A senior Chinese diplomat will visit North Korea from Friday as a special envoy of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Beijing has said, without revealing whether it is about North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

China has pushed for a diplomatic solution to the crisis but in recent months has had only limited high-level exchanges with North Korea. The last time China’s special envoy for North Korea visited the country was in February 2016.

In a brief dispatch, the official Xinhua news agency said Song Tao, who heads the Communist party’s external affairs department, would “inform the DPRK of the 19th CPC National Congress and visit the DPRK”. CPC refers to China’s recently concluded Communist party congress at which Xi further cemented his power.

North Korea’s KCNA news agency confirmed the visit but said only that it would take place “soon”.

The trip will come a week after Donald Trump visited Beijing as part of a lengthy Asia tour where he pressed for greater action to rein in North Korea, especially from China, with which North Korea does 90% of its trade.

It is not clear how long Song could stay but he has already visited Vietnam and Laos to inform them of the results of the congress, a typical courtesy China extends other communist countries after such important meetings.

It is also unclear where Song will meet the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

Kim and Xi exchanged messages of congratulations and thanks over the Chinese party congress but neither has visited the other’s country since assuming power.

Song’s department is in charge of the party’s relations with foreign political parties, and has traditionally served as a conduit for Chinese diplomacy with North Korea.

A department official said in October that China’s Communist party continued to hold talks and maintain contacts with its North Korean counterpart, describing the two countries’ friendship as important for regional stability.

China’s new special envoy for North Korea, Kong Xuanyou, who took up his position in August, is not believed to have visited the country yet.

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