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China’s foreign minister in North Korea on rare visit

By AFP - May 03,2018 - Last updated at May 03,2018

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi (left) shakes hands with North Korea's Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho at the Mansudae Assembly Hall in Pyongyang on Wednesday (AFP photo)

SEOUL — Beijing hopes that talks between the United States and North Korea will be "smooth and achieve substantial progress", China's foreign minister said on Wednesday during a rare visit to Pyongyang as the Asian superpower tries to mend ties with its nuclear-armed neighbour.

The two-day visit by Wang Yi — the highest-ranking Chinese official to travel to North Korea in years — follows a landmark inter-Korean summit and precedes a meeting between the North's leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump in coming weeks.

Beijing "fully backs... [North Korea's] efforts to achieve the goal of denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula", Wang was quoted as saying by China's official Xinhua news agency.

He also said that China was "willing to strengthen communication... [with North Korea] and continue to play a positive role in seeking a political solution to the Korean peninsula issue", Xinhua reported.

Wang, who was expected to meet his North Korean counterpart Ri Yong-ho during his stay, was greeted by Vice Foreign Minister Ri Kil-song and other officials at Pyongyang airport on Wednesday.

The two top diplomats met in Beijing last month, days after Kim travelled to China for talks with President Xi Jinping.

It was Kim's first overseas trip since he took power in 2011 and came amid signs of a diplomatic thaw.

Wang is the first Chinese foreign minister to visit the North since 2007, a lapse that highlights the rough patch in relations between the allies in recent years.

China — North Korea's sole diplomatic and economic benefactor — has supported a series of United Nations sanctions against the North over its nuclear and missile programmes.

Last year, the North staged its most powerful nuclear test to date and launched missiles capable of reaching the US mainland as Kim and Trump traded threats of war and personal insults, sparking global security fears.

Experts say China is now most likely eager to avoid being marginalised in the wave of diplomacy that led to last Friday's historic summit between Kim and the South's President Moon Jae-in.

Kim is expected to meet Trump in the coming weeks at a time and place yet to be announced.

The North Korean leader has also invited Xi to visit Pyongyang but no date has been set.

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