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China's President Xi to visit North Korea this week

Credit: REUTERS/SPUTNIK

Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit North Korea on Thursday for two days, state media in both countries reported on Monday, making him the first Chinese leader to visit the reclusive country in 14 years.

By Tony Munroe and Huizhong Wu

BEIJING, June 17 (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit North Korea on Thursday for two days, state media in both countries reported on Monday, making him the first Chinese leader to visit the reclusive country in 14 years.

Neighbouring China is North Korea's lone major ally, and the visit comes amid renewed tensions between the United States and North Korea over efforts to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.

"Both sides will exchange views on the (Korean) peninsula situation, and push for new progress in the political resolution of the peninsula issue," China's official CCTV broadcaster said in a lengthy report that led the evening broadcast.

North Korea's KCNA news agency said that the invitation was made by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Following a failed summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea's Kim in Hanoi earlier this year, Pyongyang has resumed some weapons tests and warned of "truly undesired consequences" if the United States is not more flexible.

Xi's visit to North Korea kicks off a flurry of high-level diplomatic activity around the Korean peninsula, with Trump set to visit ally South Korea after the G20 summit later this month in Osaka, Japan.

South Korea's Presidential Blue House said on Monday that South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Xi would hold a summit during the G20.

Kim has made four visits to China since March 2018, CCTV reported. The first was a dramatic and secretive rail journey that was his first known trip abroad since assuming power in June 2011.

A visit by Xi to Pyongyang had long been expected within diplomatic circles.

This year marks the 70th year since China and North Korea established diplomatic ties, CCTV noted.

Kim and Trump held a summit last year in Singapore and one in Hanoi this year, but hopes among observers over imminent progress towards denuclearisation have since faded.

The United States demands that North Korea makes verifiable progress toward giving up its nuclear weapons before any sanctions are eased, while North Korea says the United States has done nothing to reward steps already taken.

Kim has met with his South Korean counterpart Moon three times, most recently in September 2018, and the Blue House issued a statement in support of Xi's visit to the North.

"We expect the upcoming trip will contribute to an early restart of negotiations aimed at achieving complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and to establishing lasting peace," said Blue House spokeswoman Ko Min-jung.

North Korea and U.S-supported South Korea have been locked in an armed standoff since their 1950-53 war ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

The last Chinese leader to visit North Korea was Hu Jintao in 2005.

(Reporting by Huizhong Wu, Tony Munroe and Se Young Lee in Beijing; Additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin and Hyonhee Shin in Seoul Editing by Nick Macfie)

((Huizhong.Wu@thomsonreuters.com;))

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