On November 20, the South Korean foreign ministry announced that its foreign minister will visit China. On the same day, China’s special envoy to North Korea wrapped up his visit to Pyongyang.
According to the announcement, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha will leave for China on November 21 for her first visit to the country since taking up the post. She will meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on November 22.
The announcement revealed that both foreign ministers will review the full range of bilateral issues ahead of South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s first trip to China in December 2017. In addition, both sides are expected to have an “in depth” discussion on the North Korean nuclear issue as well as the situation on the Korean Peninsula, the announcement said.
The timing of Kang’s visit to China is particularly worth noting. On November 20, Song Tao, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s special envoy, just wrapped up his four-day visit to North Korea.
As The Diplomat reported earlier, Song, who currently holds the position of minister of the international liaison department of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), was sent to North Korea on November 17 with the task of “giving a briefing on the recently concluded 19th National Congress of the CCP.” Despite China’s diplomatic rhetoric, all eyes were actually on Song’s visit as a potential breakthrough with North Korea on the nuclear crisis. Even U.S. President Donald Trump claimed that it was a big move. “[W]e’ll see what happens!” he tweeted.
According to China’s state news agency Xinhua, during his trip, Song met with leaders of North Korea’s ruling party — the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) — and “exchanged views on relations between the two parties and the two countries, and on the Korean Peninsula issue and other issues of common concern.”
Both China and North Korea “pledged to strengthen inter-party exchange and coordination, and push forward the development of relations between the two countries,” said Xinhua.
Xinhua’s stolid tone is in sharp contrast with its reporting in 2015, when Liu Yunshan — then a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CCP Central Committee — visited North Korea. At that time, Liu not only met with North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un, but repeatedly emphasized the friendship between the two parties and the two countries.
In comparison, the most senior North Korean leader Song met this time was Choe Ryong-hae, a member of the Central Committee of the WPK, according to the CCP’s international liaison department.
At a regular press conference on November 20, when pressed on whether Song had met Kim Jong-un this time, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang refused to give a direct yes or no, but only said, “I have no more details to offer. ”
Whatever information Song has brought back from North Korea, it will definitely be at the top of the agenda in the upcoming meeting between Kang and Wang.