China’s President Xi Jinping has arrived in South Korea for a two-day visit set to focus on North Korea.
It is the first time a Chinese leader has visited Seoul before Pyongyang, and comes amid cooler China-North Korea ties.
China is North Korea’s biggest trading ally and the nation most able to wield influence over it.
However, in recent months Beijing has appeared increasingly frustrated with its unreliable neighbor.
Last year, North Korea carried out its third nuclear test and there are reports that it could be planning a fourth.
Xi Jinping and South Korean President Park Geun-hye are also expected to discuss growing economic ties, as the two nations work towards a free-trade agreement.
Wider strategic concerns are also in focus. Both China and South Korea are at odds with Japan over historical issues. But Seoul, like Tokyo, is a major US ally.
South East Asian nations that are, like Japan, involved in territorial disputes with Beijing are also moving closer to the US. So China will be keen to shore up ties with Seoul.
The Chinese president is said to enjoy a friendly relationship with ParkGeun-hye with whom he will hold talks.
The is the fifth summit between the two presidents since both took office. Park Geun-hye visited Beijing last year.
Xi Jinping’s visit comes a day after North Korea fired short-range rockets into the sea, the latest in a series of recent missile tests.
Ahead of the visit, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said that pushing for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula remained Chinese policy.
Xi Jinping and Park Geun-hye would “fully exchange views” on the nuclear issue and the stalled six-party talks aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions, he said.
A key issue for China is to maintain stability in North Korea. It fears that regime collapse could propel a flood of refugees across its border and also lead to a unified Korea allied to the US.
While the Chinese media outlets have in recent months voiced growing concern over Pyongyang’s actions, Xi Jinping is unlikely to speak out strongly.
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