Xi Jinping, China’s president, to skip North Korea celebrations

September 4, 2018

China is sending a high-level delegation to Pyongyang to partake in the 70th anniversary of North Korea’s founding later this week, but Chinese President Xi Jinping won’t be there, a decision that has experts wondering whether a rift may be emerging between the two allies.

North Korean state media reported Tuesday that the Chinese delegation will be headed by Li Zhanshu, a high-level member of the ruling Communist Party in Beijing, and that he will be on hand for the anniversary celebrations beginning Saturday.

Speculation has swirled in recent days over whether or not Mr. Xi would accept an invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to attend. Mr. Xi’s decision to decline follows sharp criticism by the Trump administration of the China-North Korea relationship.

In a barrage of tweets last week, Mr. Trump accused China of playing a spoiler role behind U.S.-North Korea nuclear talks in a bid to gain leverage over bare-knuckle trade negotiations with Washington. The U.S. president suggested Beijing is so frustrated with the trade negotiations that it’s pressuring North Korea not to cooperate with Washington’s demand that Pyongyang abandon its nuclear weapons.

Chinese officials dismissed the allegation, with a spokeswoman at the foreign ministry in Beijing claiming that Washington is responsible for the lack of progress in North Korea nuclear talks and that China “won’t and cannot take the blames.”

It remains to be seen whether the back-and-forth between Washington and Beijing played into Mr. Xi’s decision not to accept North Korea’s invitation to attend the upcoming anniversary celebrations in Pyongyang.

No Chinese head of state has visited North Korea since President Hu Jintao met with Mr. Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, in Pyongyang in 2005, a time when Beijing was urging the North to reform its economy and take part in six-nation denuclearization talks.

A visit by Mr. Xi on such a symbolic occasion now would have further underscored the unique historical ties between the two countries’ ruling parties. Mao Zedong sent Chinese troops to aid North Korea after the Korean War began in 1950, setting up a relationship once described as being “as close as lips and teeth.”

Mr. Xi could have also used the opportunity to reassert China’s claim to a place at the table when key decisions are made concerning Pyongyang’s relationships with both Washington and South Korea, including over a possible formal end to the Korean War. Beijing is determined to ensure its interests are honored, especially its desire to maintain the viability of Mr. Kim’s regime and keep U.S. and South Korean forces far from its border.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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