By Alex Jensen
SEOUL (AA) – North Korea looked to be reaching out to its old ally and main trade partner China on Tuesday as one of the country’s best known officials, Ri Su-yong, made an unexpected trip to Beijing.
Ri served as the North’s foreign minister until this month when he was promoted to leading positions within the reclusive state’s Workers’ Party during a May 6-9 congress in Pyongyang -- among those posts is a role overseeing international relations.
He was seen arriving at Beijing Capital International Airport before being transported in a motorcade of a dozen vehicles -- according to South Korean news agency Yonhap, diplomatic sources claim that Ri will hold talks with Chinese officials.
The diplomat’s visit comes amid a period of uncertainty on the Korean Peninsula -- Pyongyang’s landmark congress appeared to signal a desire for dialogue but Seoul has refused to meet with the North until it demonstrates a willingness to denuclearize.
South Korea has stated that it favors United Nations sanctions over talks following the imposition of a strengthened package of punitive measures in March, in response to North Korea’s fourth ever nuclear test and subsequent rocket launch.
After a weeks-long break from any major provocations, the North attempted to test-fire a medium-range ballistic missile early Tuesday morning.
Even though the launch was deemed a failure by Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, North Korea’s move is unlikely to help any effort to improve ties with an increasingly unsupportive Beijing.
South Korean trade data shows that Chinese imports from the North dropped 22.3 percent on-year in April, demonstrating Beijing’s willingness to comply with sanctions after criticisms of lax enforcement in the past.
China fought on the same side as North Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War, but Beijing has in recent years elevated its own calls for a denuclearized peninsula -- despite the North’s insistence that it is already a responsible nuclear weapons state.