Two key Asian leaders — both of whom President Trump has been trying to negotiate deals with — will meet Thursday, when Chinese President Xi Jinping will travel to North Korea for the first time as president, Chinese and North Korean state media report.
The two-day visit was prompted by an invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to China's Xinhua News Agency.
The meeting comes just days before Trump and Xi are supposed to meet at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan.
Trump is trying to reframe the trading relationship between the United States and China. He is also trying to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear and missile programs.
Xi and Kim have met several times, with the latest meeting in January. But this week's visit marks the first time a Chinese leader has traveled to North Korea in more than a decade, and it coincides with the 70th anniversary of their diplomatic ties.
"I hope that this visit will contribute to the early resumption of talks on the complete denuclearisation of and the establishment of permanent peace on the Korean peninsula," South Korean presidential spokesperson Ko Min-jung said, according to the South China Morning Post.
China's apparent willingness to vie for influence on the Korean Peninsula comes after Trump and Kim reached an impasse on negotiations despite summits in Singapore and Vietnam. Some experts have said North Korea continues to reactivate partially decommissioned missile test sites. Last month, North Korea launched short-range missiles and other weapons that landed in the sea.
China is North Korea's biggest trading partner. Chinese support was key to the effectiveness of U.S.- and U.N.-backed sanctions of North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. Since the Singapore summit, China's pressure on North Korea has eased.
Trump has accused China of slowing down the denuclearization process with North Korea.
His administration had hoped that Xi, who came to power in 2012, would use China's diplomatic leverage to derail North Korea's nuclear and missile ambitions.
But talks between Washington and Beijing have also stalled, and a trade war persists between the world's two largest economies.
Improved ties with Pyongyang could boost Beijing's bargaining power with Washington, NPR's Rob Schmitz reports from Shanghai.
Last week, Trump told reporters at the White House that he received a "beautiful letter" from North Korea's leader. He also responded to media reports that the CIA was working with Kim's half-brother before he was assassinated with a nerve agent in 2017. Trump said he "wouldn't let that happen under my auspices."
Kim has also been building closer relationships with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He traveled to the Russian city of Vladivostok to meet with Putin in April, and the two leaders vowed to form deeper ties. Putin first visited Pyongyang in 2000.
Putin recently met Xi in Tajikistan, giving him ice cream to celebrate the Chinese president's 66th birthday.
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