Xi to send top ally to N Korea

SUBTLE MESSAGE::Xi’s decision not to attend the 70th anniversary of North Korea’s founding shows that Beijing expected more progress from Pyongyang, analysts said

AP, BEIJING

Thu, Sep 06, 2018 - Page 5

Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is not planning to attend celebrations of the 70th anniversary of North Korea’s founding this weekend, but is to send a top ally to represent him instead, the Chinese Communist Party said on Tuesday.

Speculation had swirled over whether Xi would attend the celebrations following three visits to China this year by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Analysts said a decision by Xi not to travel to Pyongyang would indicate that Beijing expected further actions from Kim, including real signs of progress toward denuclearization.

The party’s International Liaison Department said Xi would be represented by Li Zhanshu (栗戰書), the party’s third-ranking official and chairman of the National People’s Congress.

While China-North Korea relations have improved this year following a prolonged chill, China remains committed to UN economic sanctions placed on the North over its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons testing programs.

The celebrations in Pyongyang also come as US President Donald Trump has blamed Beijing for the slow progress of denuclearization, suggesting that China has been encouraging North Korea to drag its feet with denuclearization to gain leverage against the US in a trade dispute that has seen both sides leveling tariffs on US$50 billion of each other’s products.

Last week, Trump tweeted that North Korea “is under tremendous pressure from China because of our major trade disputes with the Chinese government,” adding: “This is not helpful!”

China was not having any of it.

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) said that Washington should “engage in self-reflection and stop flip-flopping and blaming others.”

“Regarding America’s attempts to pass the buck, I’m sorry, we’d rather not accept,” Hua told reporters.

China has already distanced itself somewhat from its significant cooperation with the US on North Korea. After supporting tough UN sanctions and scaling back trade with the North after it ramped up nuclear and missile tests last year, Beijing has eased the pressure on its neighbor slightly.

No Chinese head of state has visited North Korea since then-Chinese president Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) met with Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, in Pyongyang in 2005.

However, Michael Kovrig, senior adviser for Northeast Asia at the International Crisis Group, described a decision by Xi not to go as a “strong signal,” indicating that “North Korea has a lot to do to get back in China’s good graces.”

Yet, Xi’s appointment of a high-ranking official such as Li as his envoy appears to indicate ties remain basically on track.