BEIJING: China’s Xi Jinping will visit Seoul next week, both sides said on Friday, going to the South for his first presidential journey to the Korean peninsula as Beijing’s frustrations mount with the nuclear-armed North and its confrontational young leader Kim Jong-Un.
China is the North’s key ally, energy provider and diplomatic protector, their ties sealed in the Korean War, and sees its neighbor as a buffer against finding US troops stationed on its own border.
Beijing and Seoul only esta–blished diplomatic ties in 1992 after decades of Cold War hostility and suspicion, but it will be the second summit between Xi and South Korean President Park Geun-Hye, who visited China soon after she took office last year.
The July 3 to 4 visit will discuss “ways to cooperate on issues related to the situation on the Korean peninsula, including the North Korean nuclear issue,” South Korea’s presidential Blue House said in a statement.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told re–porters it would cover “issues of common concern.”
On the other hand, there has been no Chinese summit with the North since the death of its then leader Kim Jong-Il, Kim Jong-Un’s father, in December 2011.
Ahead of the announcement South Korea’s Dong-A Ilbo news–paper called the trip “a message of considerable weight” to the North in an editorial.
“It is significant, definitely, that Xi Jinping and Park have a very public, close relationship,” John Delury, an expert on China at Yonsei University in Seoul, told Agence France-Presse.
“And the contrast with the fact that he hasn’t even had his picture taken with Kim Jong-Un is starkly significant,” he added.
Kim inherited the North Korean leadership from his father, becoming the third member of the Kim dynasty to rule the hermit state, and his reign has so far largely been seen as provocative, capricious and destabilizing.
He has had his own uncle Jang Song-Thaek—seen as Chi–na’s primary point of contact with the regime—executed in a purge, and threatened nuclear war against the US.
Pyongyang carried out its third underground atomic test in February 2013, resulting in fresh censure by the United Nations and a further headache for Beijing, which wants to restart stalled multilateral negotiations known as the six-party talks on the North’s denuclearization.
No visit by Kim Jong-Un to Beijing has ever been officially confirmed—although he is widely believed to have accom–panied his father on a 2011 trip—while the last Chinese head of state to go to Pyongyang was Hu Jintao in 2005.
Xi himself visited the North in 2008, when he was vice president, and the South 18 months later.
But soon after becoming president last year, Xi served the North notice that it no longer had a free pass.
Two months after Pyongyang’s nuclear test sent tensions on the peninsula soaring, Xi cautioned against the sowing of “chaos for selfish gains.”
While he did not mention North Korea by name, the remarks were widely seen as a slap.
The latest possible irritant came on Friday when the North’s official news agency announced Kim had observed the test-firing of a newly developed, high-precision tactical guided missile.