Xi Jinping Will Make First Visit to North Korea Ahead of Meeting With Trump

BEIJING — President Xi Jinping of China plans to visit North Korea later this week, his first trip there as president and a surprise move shortly before President Trump and Mr. Xi are expected to meet at an economic summit.

The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, has visited China four times in the past year. But Mr. Xi, 66, who is one of the most traveled Chinese presidents, has been reluctant to honor the 35-year-old Mr. Kim by going to the North, a country that is right next door to China.

China and North Korea have had a fraught relationship for decades, making Mr. Xi’s sudden visit, the first by a Chinese president in 14 years to the North, even more unforeseen.

Some Chinese analysts said they believed Mr. Xi was visiting the North to help revive the unsuccessful disarmament talks between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February. China’s state media said Mr. Xi would stay in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, for two days, on Thursday and Friday.

Mr. Xi could then deliver a plan for North Korea talks to Mr. Trump when they meet in Osaka, Japan, on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit meeting on June 28, said Cheng Xiaohe, a North Korea expert at Renmin University in Beijing.

With tensions sky high between the United States and China over trade, Mr. Xi could give Mr. Trump “a beautiful present” on resuming of talks over the North’s nuclear arsenal, Mr. Cheng said.

Other officials focused more on relations between China and North Korea. The Communist Party’s International Department said the visit of Mr. Xi would “inject new momentum” into the relationship, the state broadcaster CCTV said.

Mr. Xi’s trip would come 70 years after the start of diplomatic relations between the North and China, CCTV said. A year later, in 1950, China began fighting alongside North Koreans against the United States in the Korean War.

North Korea has long looked to China to intercede for it on the world stage. But after the North staged successful missile and nuclear tests, China voted in favor of tougher economic sanctions against the country, a position that has rankled Mr. Kim.

Still, China remains North Korea’s most important ally, and has sometimes helped Mr. Kim by looking the other way as oil has been delivered to the North in violation of international sanctions.

The sudden arrival of Mr. Xi in North Korea would not necessarily mean any improvement in the brittle relationship between China and the North, said Evans J.R. Revere, a fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“I am certain that Beijing demanded a price from Pyongyang for the visit — no provocations,” such as missile tests, Mr. Revere said. “The North Koreans don’t need the Chinese to deliver messages to Trump about possible talks; they have a direct channel.”

Mr. Xi would be a useful conduit for the North Koreans to convey “assurances” to Mr. Trump about North Korean intentions, Mr. Revere said.

Mr. Trump announced last week he had received a letter in which Mr. Kim had offered a “reset” in relations after the failure in Hanoi. But he would offer no further detail about the communication.

In South Korea, the presidential spokesman said that the South had learned of preparations for Mr. Xi’s plan to visit North Korea in the past week.

The South has been supportive of all efforts to restart denuclearization talks, and the visit of Mr. Xi should contribute to their resumption, said Ko Min-jung, spokeswoman of the presidential Blue House in Seoul.

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