BY SILVI WRITER
Chinese President Xi Jinping is not going to visit North Korea this time, but he is sending his right-hand man to go on his behalf.
Li Zhanshu, chairman of the National People’s Congress and the third-ranking official in the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, will visit Pyongyang as Xi’s special representative from Saturday.
Li will be the highest Chinese official to visit the neighbouring state since 2015.
Few people would be aware that Pyongyang was actually where Xi made his own international debut, after being promoted to China’s top leadership in Oct 2007.
In June 2008, Xi paid a visit to North Korea, his first overseas tour as China’s vice-president and a member of the Politburo Standing Committee.
“China always supports North Korea improve relations with the US and Japan through dialogues,” Xi said in a meeting with Kim Jong-il, father of Kim Jong-un and North Korea’s supreme leader at that time.
2008 was a relatively quiet year on the Korean peninsula, when Pyongyang conducted no nuclear or missile tests.
Since Xi’s visit, China’s top leaders, members of the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, have paid some noteworthy visits to North Korea.
In Oct 2009, Premier Wen Jiabao visited North Korea to celebrate the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries.
It was the year when reports surface that North Korea has become a “fully fledged nuclear power”. Pyongyang conducted its second nuclear test in May and missile test in July.
It was also in that summer when the writer of this article sat in the editorial room of a state-owned newspaper in Beijing, spending long work hours interviewing China’s diplomatic analysts and writing front page lead stories about the nuke crisis.
As the situation has seemingly made a U-turn this year, especially after Kim Jong-un’s Singapore meeting with the US President Donald Trump, the writer does hope this positive momentum could last longer to created peaceful international environment.
Back in 2009, the year of high tension on the peninsula, Wen pledged in Pyongyang to strengthen bonds between the two countries.
He made no mention of the North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
But international media had reported that Kim Jong-il announced that North Korea might “finally return to the negotiating table” during Wen’s visit.
In Oct 2010, then China’s security tsar Zhou Yongkang, who later fell from grace for corruption, visited Pyongyang to attend North Korea’s 65th National Day celebrations.
The celebrations also marked the public emergence of the younger Kim, as leader-designate of the country.
Interestingly, official websites of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its embassy in North Korea both deleted all articles about Zhou’s visit, probably because his late fell from grace.
Zhou is China’s highest-ever official who has been charged for crime.
In Oct 2011, Li Keqiang, then vice-premier, was the next Chinese leader to visit Pyongyang.
He paid an “official good will visit”, according to Xinhua, China’s state-owned news agency.
Li said China was “willing to continue to play a constructive role in helping improve the ties” between the North and the South, and “maintaining peace and stability on the peninsula”.
Both 2010 and 2011 were relatively quiet.
Liu Yunshan, then China’s propaganda tsar, was the last Chinese leader to visit North Korea, in Oct 2015.
He was heading a CPC delegation to attend activities marking the 70th founding anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, and presented a signed letter from CPC General Secretary Xi to Kim Jong-un.
No major nuclear or missile test happened on the peninsula in 2015 either.
This time, the upcoming visit of Li Zhanshu will, again, be under international spotlight. Hopefully such high level diplomatic activity could help the current positive momentum last longer.