N. Korea foreign minister meets counterpart in Beijing

Ri Yong Ho addresses the UN General Assembly last September: he is currently visiting Beijing as part of a diplomatic flurry
AFP

Beijing (AFP) – North Korea’s foreign minister held talks with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing on Tuesday, a week after Pyongyang’s leader Kim Jong Un made a surprise trip to China before planned summits with the US and South Korean presidents.

The latest visit, disclosed by China’s foreign ministry, is part of a flurry of diplomacy that has eased regional tensions after months of bellicose rhetoric between the United States and North Korea over Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.

Photos posted on the ministry’s Weibo social media account showed Foreign Minister Wang Yi and North Korea’s Ri Yong Ho smiling as they shook hands and sitting for talks. 

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang indicated that Ri’s visit would be short. Wang is scheduled to be in Russia on Wednesday.

“Details on the meeting will be provided in a timely manner,” Geng said.

North Korea’s official KCNA news agency said Ri was heading a government delegation that left on Tuesday for a conference of foreign ministers of the Non-Aligned Movement in Azerbaijan.

Ri will also visit Russia and other former Soviet states.

Kim last week met President Xi Jinping on his first trip abroad since inheriting power from his father Kim Jong Il in December 2011.

China is the North’s only significant ally and trade partner, but ties had cooled since it began enforcing UN sanctions aimed at curbing its neighbour’s nuclear and missile programmes.

Kim’s secretive visit was dubbed “unofficial” but bore all the trappings of an official state occasion, with honour guards, bouquets, red carpets and meetings with most of China’s top leaders.

– ‘Eliminate interference’ –

Kim is now due to hold a summit with South Korea’s Moon Jae-in on April 27 and a landmark meeting with US President Donald Trump is also planned — events that give both Pyongyang and Beijing new incentives to repair their strained relationship.

Wang struck a note of caution about the diplomatic developments during a press conference with Switzerland’s visiting foreign minister earlier Tuesday.

“Of course, historical experience tells us that when the situation on the (Korean) peninsula eases and peace talks usher in the light of dawn, there are often all types of disturbances,” he said, calling on all parties to “eliminate interference” and continue dialogue.

“We hope the leaders of the US and North Korea can successfully meet and enhance mutual understanding and establish basic trust,” Wang said.

South Korea said last month after talks with Kim in Pyongyang that he would consider abandoning his nuclear weapons in exchange for US security guarantees, and would halt weapons tests while talks were under way.

In Beijing, Kim had been quoted as saying by China’s Xinhua news agency that the issue of denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula “can be resolved if South Korea and the United States respond to our efforts with goodwill, create an atmosphere of peace and stability while taking progressive and synchronous measures for the realisation of peace”.

– ‘Deeply moved’ –

The diplomatic thaw began during February’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, to which Kim sent athletes, cheerleaders and his sister as an envoy.

The North has rapidly expanded on the thaw by launching several diplomatic initiatives.

Earlier this week Kim attended a rare performance in Pyongyang by South Korean K-pop stars, shaking their hands and taking photos backstage. 

Kim was “deeply moved” by the performance, state media reported, an unusual step as the authoritarian regime typically struggles to prevent the South’s pop culture from reaching its isolated people.

That followed a visit to Pyongyang by International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach, who said last Saturday that Kim had committed to sending teams to the Tokyo and Beijing Olympics.

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