Lee Hae-chan, chairman of South Korea’s governing Democratic Party (DP), said on Friday that he expects Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping to visit both North and South Korea this spring.
“Xi’s visit to North Korea seems to be scheduled for April, and in May, there appears to be a high possibility of his trip to South Korea,” Lee said during a meeting with Noh Young-min, the new chief of staff for President Moon Jae-in.
Lee expressed optimism that Xi’s visit to the Korean Peninsula, another meeting between the two Korean governments, and U.S. President Donald Trump’s second summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un would combine to enhance the “peace mood in Northeast Asia” by the time summer arrives.
Xi told Moon at a meeting in November that Kim invited him to visit Pyongyang and he thought he might accept the invitation sometime in 2019.
Noh was the South Korean ambassador to China until this week when Moon reshuffled his cabinet in a bid to arrest his falling approval ratings. Moon was riding high on the success of diplomatic outreach to North Korea until he encountered a combination of disappointing economic news and a surveillance scandal, in which the presidential office is accused of illegally spying on both civilians and government officials.
Kim Jong-un made his fourth visit to China this week with very little advance notice. Xi reportedly endorsed a second meeting between Kim and Trump and advised Kim to proceed with denuclearization. Kim sought security and economic guarantees from China before meeting with Trump, possibly including quiet inquiries about joining China’s international Belt and Road infrastructure program.
There was much speculation about whether Kim’s sudden and brief trip to Beijing could have been related to the U.S.-China trade war, with theories ranging from Kim squeezing a weakened Xi for concessions to Xi using North Korean denuclearization as leverage against the United States, to Xi and Kim jointly deciding to hang tough and wait out the remainder of President Trump’s first term without making an significant concessions to the United States.