Premier Wen Jiabao is set to visit the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) early next week on a trip that analysts hope may help revive the stalled six-nation talks.
Commentators pointed out that China would be unlikely to send such a high-profile visitor if it had not received some sort of assurance from Pyongyang that the talks - in limbo for nearly half a year - might be saved.
The Foreign Ministry said in a brief dispatch yesterday that Wen will pay an "official goodwill visit" to the DPRK between Sunday and Tuesday.
"Wen will meet with DPRK leaders and exchange views on furthering China-DPRK ties and other issues of concern to both countries," said ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu.
The premier will attend activities marking the 60th anniversary of bilateral ties and commemorate the China-DPRK Friendship Year, she said.
The impending visit was also confirmed by the DPRK's Korean Central News Agency.
Neither country is saying much more about the visit, which comes after Pyongyang made a series of conciliatory gestures toward the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the United States following months of tension after the DPRK conducted nuclear testing and missile launches earlier this year and after resulting sanctions.
In April, the DPRK formally withdrew from six-nation talks on decommissioning nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula. Since then, China has been seen as crucial to getting the DPRK back around the table.
Earlier yesterday, the ROK's Yonhap news agency reported that DPRK leader Kim Jong-il may announce some concrete denuclearization measures during Wen's visit.
Yonhap, citing unidentified diplomatic sources in Beijing, reported that China may also offer fuel aid to the DPRK.
"There probably will be significant talks between Wen and leader Kim Jong-il, not only on their relations but about events throughout the Korean Peninsula and nuclear arms," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the ROK's University of North Korean Studies.
The DPRK had been insisting on one-on-one talks with the US, instead of the Six-Party Talks that involve the DPRK, ROK, China, Russia, US and Japan.
Washington, which had demanded Pyongyang return to six-nation talks before any one-on-one dialogue, is believed to now be considering direct talks as part of its efforts to restart the six-party process.
But Wang Fan, from China Foreign Affairs University, said it is unlikely Wen will discuss with Kim any "such concrete issue" as when the Six-Party Talks will reopen.
Wang said while Kim is not likely to offer concrete commitment, he may express a willingness to resume talks.
China and the DPRK held a reception in Beijing yesterday to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties. DPRK ambassador Choe Jin-su said it was a consistent policy of the DPRK to develop friendship with China.
Last month, Kim reportedly expressed a willingness to engage in "bilateral and multilateral talks" during his meeting with Chinese presidential envoy Dai Bingguo in Pyongyang.
Meanwhile, Washington's second most senior diplomat is set to meet Chinese leaders in Beijing in an attempt to see the resumption of Six-Party Talks. US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg will reportedly meet Vice-President Xi Jinping and State Councilor Dai during the visit.
(China Daily September 29, 2009)