BEIJING (AP) — A senior North Korean diplomat arrived in Beijing on Tuesday for talks following China's ban on coal imports from its neighbor and the killing of the exiled half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Vice Foreign Minister Ri Kil Song will hold talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on "issues of common concern," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily news briefing.
Last week, China suspended all coal imports from North Korea for the rest of the year as it steps up pressure on its once-close Communist ally to give up its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
China is North Korea's largest source of trade and aid, and the move deprives the North of an important source of foreign currency. Beijing wants the U.S. in return to restart long-stalled negotiations with North Korea to ease regional tensions.
In Washington, Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi met Tuesday with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and they discussed "areas of mutual concern, including North Korea's nuclear programs," the State Department said. Yang, a top foreign policy adviser, is the first senior Chinese official to visit the U.S. since President Donald Trump took power five weeks ago. Yang met the president Monday.
Angered by Kim's defiance of U.N. resolutions against North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs, China has been ratcheting up its enforcement of punitive U.N. sanctions while urging dialogue between the sides.
China's tough line drew an unusual critique last week from North Korea's state-run news agency, which suggested that Beijing's suspension of coal imports and criticism of a recent North Korean missile test amounted to an enemy state "dancing to the tune of the U.S."
Some observers speculate that relations have also been affected by the apparent assassination of Kim Jong Un's older half brother, Kim Jong Nam. South Korea says it believes Kim Jong Un ordered the killing, which took place Feb. 13 at Kuala Lumpur's airport.
The elder Kim was believed to have two sons and a daughter with two women living in Beijing and the Chinese territory of Macau, and to have enjoyed some degree of Chinese protection.
While seeking to moderate North Korea's actions, China is wary of harsher steps that could cause Kim's regime to collapse, possibly leading to a wave of refugees seeking to enter China, and U.S. and South Korean forces on its northeastern border.
Further complicating matters, China's formerly close relations with North Korea's rival, South Korea, have been shaken by Seoul's decision to deploy an advanced U.S. anti-missile defense system that Beijing regards as a threat to its own security.