China Sending Officials to North Korea Before Kim’s Russia Trip

(Bloomberg) — China plans to send its second high-profile delegation to North Korea in less than two months, just before an expected trip by Kim Jong Un to Russia that could touch on arms deals.

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The Chinese group led by Politburo member Liu Guozhong will travel to North Korea for celebrations marking the 75th anniversary of the country’s founding on Saturday, Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency said in a brief notice on Thursday.

The delegation from North Korea’s biggest benefactor follows China sending a group including Li Hongzhong, also a member of the 24-member Politburo, to Pyongyang for the anniversary of the end of the Korean War in July.

That visit included representatives from Russia and was the first to head to North Korea since Kim closed his borders at the start of the pandemic. It also indicated he was ready to ease up on curbs aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus that hurt trade with his two powerful neighbors.

Read: Kim Jong Un Shows Nuclear Missiles to Russia, China at Parade

It is unclear exactly why Liu, who also holds the title of vice premier, is traveling to North Korea, though he works on health and agriculture issues. He has also held posts in Heilongjiang and Jilin provinces, which are both near North Korea, and has sought deeper ties with Pyongyang. North Korea has battled chronic food shortages for decades.

The delegation gives Chinese President Xi Jinping a chance to communicate with Kim before the North Korean leader travels to Russia next week for a meeting in Vladivostok with President Vladimir Putin.

See: North Korea’s Kim to Visit Russia as US Warns of Arms Deal

White House officials have said they expect talks between Kim and Putin to focus on arms transfers from North Korea to help the Kremlin’s war machine in Ukraine. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan warned Pyongyang it would “pay a price” for providing weapons.

North Korea holds vast stores of munitions that can be fired from the Soviet-era weaponry that Russia relies upon for its war, now in its second year. The New York Times has reported Kim is looking for food aid from Russia and help building a nuclear-powered submarine and deploying spy satellites.

More: Why Putin and Kim Becoming Pals Is a Danger to World: QuickTake

–With assistance from Xiao Zibang and Se Young Lee.

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