Senior North Korean official arrives in Beijing for talks

Sharon Lee, Feb. 28, 2017, 9:07 a.m.


BEIJING/SEOUL, Feb. 28 (Yonhap) -- A senior North Korean diplomat arrived in Beijing on Tuesday for talks on "issues of mutual concern," amid growing tensions over the North's missile test and the death of the Pyongyang leader's half brother.

China's foreign ministry said that the North's Vice Foreign Minister Ri Kil-song came to Beijing at its invitation and will have talks with senior officials including Foreign Minister Wang Yi during his stay.

The North's Korean Central News Agency also confirmed Kyodo News' report earlier in the day about his visit.

A Chinese ministry spokesman said at a regular press briefing that they will discuss "issues of mutual concerns" and other international affairs.

This marked the first time in about nine months that a high-ranking North Korean official has visited China for dialogue with his counterparts. In May, Ri Su-yong, a vice chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea, visited Beijing.

Ri's arrival in Beijing comes after China recently announced it will stop all imports of North Korean coal and has taken a tough stance on Pyongyang's provocative acts. Coal is regarded as a main income source for the reclusive state.

The North fired off a new intermediate range ballistic missile on Feb. 12 in defiance of warnings from the international community.

Pyongyang is also suspected of having masterminded the recent murder of its leader's half brother Kim Jong-nam at a Kuala Lumpur airport. Local police have named eight North Koreans, including a diplomat, as suspects, though the North strongly denies any involvement.

If the North proves to be behind the murder, it would face stepped-up international condemnation and punishment, such as the U.S.' move to place Pyongyang on its terrorism list, observers said.

Some experts see Ri's trip to China as an attempt to explain the North's position on the murder case and possibly seek cooperation from its biggest ally against this backdrop.

South Korea's foreign ministry said that it will pay "close" attention to talks that Ri could have with his Chinese counterparts and their outcome.

"We hope that the North-China relations will move in a direction that would contribute to stabilizing peace on the Korean Peninsula, make Pyongyang go nuclear-free, stop engaging in terrorism and come out as a responsible member of the international community," foreign ministry spokesman Cho June-hyuck said at a press briefing.

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