China’s Xi leaves for first state visit to North Korea

Chinese President Xi Jinping is seen on a screen while delivering a speech during a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), Russia June 7, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping departed for Pyongyang on Thursday on a state visit to North Korea, state media said, accompanied by a clutch of senior officials, including the head of the state economic planner.

Xi will be in North Korea for two days becoming the first Chinese leader to visit the reclusive country in 14 years, and could bring fresh support measures for its floundering, sanctions-bound economy.

Neighboring China is the reclusive North’s only major ally, and the visit comes amid renewed tension on the Korean peninsula as the United States seeks to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.

Xi’s entourage includes China’s two top diplomats and He Lifeng, head of the National Development and Reform Commission, state media said in a brief dispatch about his departure.

While China has signed up to United Nations sanctions for the North’s repeated nuclear and missile tests and has said it is enforcing them fully, despite some U.S. doubts, it has suggested sanctions relief for the country.

China, engaged in a bitter trade war with the United States, has also defended its “normal” trade and business ties with North Korea.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry and Clarence Fernandez

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