(Bloomberg) — China plans to send its second high-profile delegation to North Korea in less than two months, just before an expected trip by Kim Jong Un to Russia that could touch on arms deals.
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The Chinese group led by Politburo member Liu Guozhong will travel to North Korea for celebrations marking the 75th anniversary of the country’s founding on Saturday, Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency said in a brief notice on Thursday. China confirmed that Liu would visit from Friday.
The delegation from North Korea’s biggest benefactor follows China sending a group including Li Hongzhong, also a member of the 24-member Politburo, to Pyongyang for the anniversary of the end of the Korean War in July.
That visit included representatives from Russia and was the first to head to North Korea since Kim closed his borders at the start of the pandemic. That event indicated Kim was ready to ease up on curbs aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus that hurt trade with his two powerful neighbors.
Read: Kim Jong Un Shows Nuclear Missiles to Russia, China at Parade
It is unclear exactly why Liu, who also holds the title of vice premier, is traveling to North Korea, though he works on health and agriculture issues. He has also held posts in Heilongjiang and Jilin provinces, which are both near North Korea, and has sought deeper ties with Pyongyang. North Korea has battled chronic food shortages for decades.
The delegation could give Chinese President Xi Jinping a chance to communicate with Kim before the North Korean leader is expected to travel to Russia next week for a meeting in Vladivostok with President Vladimir Putin.
Russian Ambassador to North Korea Alexander Matsegora promised significant participation from his country in the celebrations marking the 75th anniversary of the founding of North Korea, he told state news service Tass. He added sanctions imposed on the two in no way affect Moscow-Pyongyang ties.
See: North Korea’s Kim to Visit Russia as US Warns of Arms Deal
White House officials have said they believe talks between Kim and Putin will focus on arms transfers from North Korea to help the Kremlin’s war machine in Ukraine. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan warned Pyongyang it would “pay a price” for providing weapons.
North Korea holds vast stores of munitions that can be fired from the Soviet-era weaponry that Russia relies upon for its war, now in its second year. The New York Times has reported Kim is looking for food aid from Russia and help building a nuclear-powered submarine and deploying spy satellites.
More: Why Putin and Kim Becoming Pals Is a Danger to World: QuickTake
–With assistance from Xiao Zibang, Se Young Lee and Sangmi Cha.
(Updates with reports from China and Russia.)
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