China’s vice president will visit North Korea this week for Korean War commemorations following a period of strained relations between the communist neighbors.
Chinese Vice President Li Yuan-chao (李源潮) will be the highest ranking Chinese official to visit North Korea since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un took over the leadership of the impoverished hard-line communist state upon his father’s death in December 2011.
The trip lasting from today through Sunday affirms a warming trend in relations between a deeply isolated Pyongyang and Beijing, its only real ally and key source of economic assistance.
The statement posted yesterday on the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affair’s Web site said Li will visit for 60th anniversary commemorations of the end of the 1950-1953 Korean War, in which China fought on the North’s side against UN forces led by the US.
That shared history, in which troops sent by then-Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東) likely saved the North Korean regime from annihilation, has been the default fallback for the sides through periods of ambivalence bordering on animosity.
Most recently, Beijing was deeply offended by Pyongyang’s actions following Kim’s ascension, including conducting rocket launches, a nuclear test and other saber-rattling that spiked tensions with South Korea and the US.
Beijing considered the moves an affront to its interests in regional stability and showed its displeasure by joining with the US to back UN sanctions and cut off dealings with North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank.
North Korea also frustrated Beijing by refusing to agree to high-level meetings and incensed the Chinese public after a Chinese fishing crew was detained.
The bad blood led to an unusual half-year gap in high-level contacts that ended in May, when Pyongyang dispatched one of Kim’s close allies to Beijing to reaffirm close traditional ties and commit North Korea to eventually rejoining six-nation nuclear disarmament talks hosted by Beijing.