China, North Korea to Exchange Visits

By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, July 4, 2006; 12:50 PM

TOKYO, July 4 -- China and North Korea announced Tuesday that they would exchange visits by high-ranking officials, providing a window of opportunity for Beijing to dissuade Pyongyang from going ahead with a possible missile test and return to international nuclear disarmament talks.

In Beijing, China's Foreign Ministry said that Hui Liangyu, a vice premier, would make a four-day trip to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang next Monday to mark the 45th anniversary of a friendship treaty between the two nations. At the same time, the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported Tuesday that Yang Hyong Sop, vice president of Pyongyang's Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, would lead a "goodwill visit" to China.

The KCNA report, according to South Korea's Yonhap news service, did not provide the dates of the trip although it will presumably be held around the same time as Hui's visit.

Concern has mounted in recent weeks that the North Koreans may be preparing to test fire a new long-range ballistic missile with the potential to reach the United States.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu in Beijing did not discuss the topics Hui will raise with the North Koreans, but Chinese officials have previously stated their concern regarding the possible missile test. China -- North Korea's biggest benefactor -- has also called on North Korea to return to a new round of nuclear disarmament talks stalled for the past six months. China's ability to prod the North Koreans back to the table is considered a key test of Beijing's aspirations for increased diplomatic clout in the region.

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