BEIJING: A top official and confidante of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Wednesday met a senior Chinese official in Beijing, at a time of strained relations and ahead of a China-US summit.
Choe Ryong-hae, director of the Korean People’s Army politburo, flew to Beijing with a handful of senior military and ruling party officials, the Korean Central News Agency said, highlighting his role “as a special envoy” of the North’s young leader.
Choe met Wang Jiarui, head of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s International Department, the official news agency Xinhua said, without giving further details.
Choe is believed to be the highest-ranking North Korean party official to visit China—Pyongyang’s sole major ally and chief economic benefactor—since late leader Kim Jong-Il in August 2011.
Kim Jong-un has never visited since he took over after his father’s death in December 2011. He sent his uncle Jang Song-thaek, one of the powerful figures in Kim’s inner circle, to Beijing in August last year.
The trip comes at a sensitive time for a relationship which has been sorely tested in recent months by Pyongyang’s refusal to heed Beijing’s warnings against provoking the international community with its nuclear program.
China has long been the North’s chief diplomatic protector. But it sided with the rest of UN Security Council in imposing sanctions after the North’s long-range rocket test in December last year, and its nuclear test in February.