Chinese President Xi Jinping. Picture: REUTERS
Chinese President Xi Jinping. Picture: REUTERS

Beijing — Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit North Korea on Thursday for two days, state media in both countries reported on Monday, making him the first Chinese leader to visit the reclusive country in 14 years.

Neighbouring China is North Korea’s lone major ally, and the visit comes amid renewed tensions between the US and North Korea over efforts to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.

“Both sides will exchange views on the [Korean] peninsula situation, and push for new progress in the political resolution of the peninsula issue,” China’s official CCTV broadcaster said in a lengthy report that led the evening broadcast.

North Korea’s KCNA news agency said that the invitation was made by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Following a failed summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim in Hanoi earlier in 2019, Pyongyang has resumed some weapons tests and warned of “truly undesired consequences” if the US is not more flexible.

Xi’s visit to North Korea kicks off a flurry of high-level diplomatic activity around the Korean peninsula, with Trump set to visit ally South Korea after the Group of 20 summit later in June in Osaka, Japan.

South Korea’s Presidential Blue House said on Monday that  President Moon Jae-in and Xi would hold a summit during the summit.

Kim has made four visits to China since March 2018, CCTV reported. The first was a dramatic and secretive rail journey that was his first known trip abroad since assuming power in June 2011.

A visit by Xi to Pyongyang had long been expected within diplomatic circles.

Kim and Trump held a summit in 2018 in Singapore and one in Hanoi in 2019, but hopes among observers over imminent progress towards denuclearisation have since faded.

The US demands that North Korea makes verifiable progress toward giving up its nuclear weapons before any sanctions are eased, while North Korea says the US has done nothing to reward steps already taken.

Kim has met his South Korean counterpart Moon three times, most recently in September 2018, and the Blue House issued a statement in support of Xi’s visit to the North.

“We expect the upcoming trip will contribute to an early restart of negotiations aimed at achieving complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and to establishing lasting peace,” said Blue House spokesperson Ko Min-jung.

The last Chinese leader to visit North Korea was Hu Jintao in 2005.