China on Tuesday refuted reports that President Xi Jinping’s sudden move to make a rare visit to North Korea this week was aimed at using Beijing’s close ties with Pyongyang as a “leverage” to deal with his US counterpart Donald Trump’s threat to impose tariffs on more Chinese imports.
China on Monday announced that President Xi would make his maiden visit to Pyongyang on Thursday – the first by a Chinese leader in 14 years – in a big boost to the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who is under heavy pressure from the US to give up nuclear weapons programme.
The sudden announcement of Xi’s visit to Pyongyang ahead of his much-speculated meeting with Trump at the G-20 summit in Osaka on June 28-29 led to speculation that he wants to flaunt Beijing’s importance in any future deal between US and North Korea over denuclearisation.
Answering a spate of questions over Xi’s visit to North Korea, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang denied that the trip was aimed at using Beijing-Pyongyang close ties as leverage in China-US trade talks.
China is under pressure as Trump, who had imposed additional tariffs on USD 250 billion worth of Chinese imported goods, threatened to impose tariffs on the remaining USD 300 billion Chinese imports if no deal worked out in his likely meeting with Xi at Osaka.
“You said ‘China may use this visit as leverage on US’. I shall say certain people with such thinking may over interpret that,” Lu said.
“China and DPRK (North Korea) are close neighbours enjoying the friendly relations. The two countries always maintained good exchanges. We hope you can get clear idea about this visit and our firm determination to develop friendly ties with DPRK and do not make unnecessary links or connections,” Lu said.
He also took exception to reports questioning the timing of Xi’s visit to North Korea and speculation linking the trip to Xi-Trump meeting, which China is yet to confirm.
Kim already had two failed summits with Trump, who in the past accused Xi of “influencing” the North Korean leader against working out a deal to give up nuclear weapons.
“The timing of Xi’s visit has nothing to do with talks with US,” Lu said.
“Trade disputes between US and China have dragged on for one year or so. I don’t see why it is getting more sensitive for the moment,” he said, adding that China was surprised by the outcome of Trump-Kim summit at Hanoi in February.
The summit failed to yield any results to end the deadlock over denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.
“But after that the situation is moving forward with the resumption of dialogue. I wonder why the situation is more sensitive than February,” Lu said.
After his Singapore summit with Kim last year, Trump accused Xi of influencing the North Korean leader against going for a deal.
Kim met Xi four times in recent months.
“It could very well be that he’s influencing Kim Jong-un. We’ll see what happens. Meaning the President of China, President Xi, could be influencing,” Trump said in May 2018.
Another Chinese official Song Tao, head of the International Department of the ruling Communist Party of China, said Xi’s visit to North Korea is of great significance for efforts to build on past successes to further advance bilateral relationship.
He said during his visit, Xi will hold talks with Kim and pay homage to the Friendship Tower. The two leaders will review the development of bilateral ties in the past 70 years, and have an in-depth exchange of views on bilateral ties in the new era so as to guide the future development.
The two sides will further exchange views on the Korean Peninsula situation in the hope of achieving progress in promoting the political settlement, Song said.
They will also brief each other on their own countries’ development, state-run China Global Television Network, or CGTN, quoted him as saying.
China believes that with joint efforts on both sides, Xi’s visit will be a success that will open a new chapter of the relations between the two parties and the two countries and make new contribution to regional peace, stability and prosperity, Song said.