China to send special envoy to North Korea

US president Donald Trump gestures before boarding Air Force One to travel to the Philippines at the airport in Hanoi

China's Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that a senior diplomat travelling to North Korea as a special envoy of Chinese President Xi Jinping will exchange views on matters between the two countries and parties.

North Korea's ties with China, its main ally and economic benefactor, have been frayed over Pyongyang's persistent advancement of its nuclear and missile programs.

Song, the head of the International Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC), is expected to convey the outcome of Xi-Trump talks and Washington's emphasis on Pyongyang giving up the nuclear and missile programmes for resumption of dialogue and lifting of sanctions.

Trump has repeatedly called on China to use its leverage as North Korea's top financial backer to pressure Kim Jong Un into giving up his quest for the ability to strike the U.S. with a nuclear weapon.

Song's last reported trip to North Korea was in May previous year when he met Ri Su-yong, vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party.

The last visit to Pyongyang by a member of China's elite Politburo Standing Committee was in October 2015.

The announcement of the visit Wednesday seems especially timely because it comes a day after Trump wrapped up his extended tour of Asia.

"The envoy's visit is to persuade North Korea, hoping that North Korea will return to the track of peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue", he said.

Asked whether the trip's timing is linked to Trump's visit, Geng said it was "usual practice" for China's Communist Party and the North's Workers Party to brief each other after their mutual congresses. China's support of new UN Security Council sanctions resolutions, the latest on September 11, following the North's sixth nuclear test earlier that month. China is the linchpin of any such effort, and in Beijing Trump said it can fix the North Korea problem "easily and quickly".

Meanwhile, Trump's tough talk - including his recent barbed tweet saying he would never call Kim short and fat, for example - hasn't paved the way for conciliatory measures from Pyongyang, at least not in public.

Trump asked Xi last week to work "very hard" on resolving the crisis, while the Chinese leader repeated his plea for negotiations to resolve the dispute peacefully. Beijing has also tried to defuse tensions between the United States and North Korea.

North Korea has time and again said it has no intention of backing away from its nuclear program.

The pariah nation also reportedly didn't respond to an April request from China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi to meet officials in North Korea.

"He should know that he is just a disgusting criminal sentenced to death by the Korean people".

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