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Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit North Korea later this week amid high tensions with the US

Key Points
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping will travel to North Korea this week for a two-day visit, ahead of a possible meeting between Xi and President Donald Trump at next week's G-20 summit in Japan.
  • Xi will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who has resisted calls to give up his nuclear weapons.
  • The Chinese leader could offer a plan for Pyongyang and Washington to resume formal talks and also be looking to gain leverage with Trump as the U.S.-China trade war continues to simmer.
A woman watches a television screen showing a news broadcast, featuring North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un during a meeting with China's president Xi Jinping, at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday, March 28, 2018.
SeongJoon Cho | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Chinese President Xi Jinping will travel to North Korea this week for a two-day visit, ahead of a possible meeting between Xi and President Donald Trump at next week's G-20 economic summit in Japan.

China's state media announced Monday that Xi will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who has resisted calls to give up his nuclear weapons.

Xi's visit to North Korea could represent a new effort by Beijing to encourage its isolated neighbor to resume dialogue with the U.S. over denuclearization. Xi could offer a plan for Pyongyang and Washington to resume formal talks and also be looking to gain leverage with Trump as the U.S.-China trade war continues to simmer.

Harry Kazianis, a Korea expert at the Washington-based Center for the National Interest, said the Chinese president could end up "sending a message from Kim that he is open to a third summit and what he wants in deliverables."

Tensions have risen again between the U.S. and North Korea.

Last month, North Korea fired a series of short-range missiles in weapons tests that were seen as a sign of Pyongyang's frustration with the U.S. and South Korea over the lack of progress in getting sanctions relief. It followed Kim and Trump's Hanoi summit in February that was the second meeting between the two and ended abruptly without an agreement.

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While Xi's visit is "clearly a summit that will be grounded more in symbolism than substance, Xi and Kim will want to compare notes on where the other stands on their diplomacy towards the United States," said Kazianis.

Pyongyang recently lashed out at John Bolton, Trump's national security advisor, after he criticized North Korea's missile testing as a violation of U.N. resolutions. Bolton also insisted sanctions must stay in place against the hermit regime.

North Korea has been pushing for full removal of U.S. and U.N. sanctions that have targeted Pyongyang for its nuclear and missile programs. Officials in North Korea are said to have wanted some relief from sanctions in return for last year destroying the country's Punggye-ri nuclear test site.

Xi's trip will mark the first visit to North Korea by a Chinese leader in 14 years, according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV. The report added that the visit coincides with the 70th anniversary of China and North Korea establishing diplomatic ties.

Kim may want economic assistance for his impoverished country of about 23 million people. China represents about 90% of North Korea's external trade, including most of its imported food and energy supplies.

"The sad fact is that Washington is completely dependent on Beijing enforcing its so-called maximum pressure strategy," said Kazianis, noting that most of North Korea's exports move through China.

Xi previously visited North Korea in 2008, when he was vice president of China, according to reports. He was welcomed by North Korea's second dictator, Kim Jong Il, father of the current state leader.

Chinese state-owned newspaper Global Times quoted experts who returned last week from Pyongyang as reporting signs of North Korea making special preparations for the Chinese leader's state visit. They include renovations along a highway from the airport and at a monument celebrating friendship between the two countries.

North Korea's official state media announced the trip but didn't provide further details. North Korea's state news agency KCNA reported in January that Kim had extended an invitation for Xi to visit North Korea when he met with the Chinese president in Beijing.