SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A Chinese delegation led by Vice Premier Liu Guozhong will visit North Korea to participate in celebrations for its 75th founding anniversary, which is on Saturday, the North’s state media said Thursday.
The report came amid speculation that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is preparing to visit Russia soon for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that could focus on North Korean arms sales to refill Russian reserves drained by its war on Ukraine.
The North's official Korean Central News Agency said the visit by Liu’s delegation comes at the invitation of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party. It didn’t specify the events the Chinese officials would participate in or whether they would meet Kim.
North Korea didn't immediately say whether a Russian delegation was also invited for the celebrations, which are expected to be highlighted by a parade of North Korean militia units.
A U.S. official said Monday that Washington expects Kim to make a trip to Russia within this month to meet Putin as the Kremlin tries to acquire military equipment for its war in Ukraine.
According to some U.S. reports, the meeting could happen as early as next week in the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok, where Putin is expected to attend an annual economic forum that runs from Sunday to Wednesday.
South Korean intelligence officials believe Russia and North Korea may arrange a “surprise” route for Kim's visit to avoid potential venues reported by the media, according to lawmaker Yoo Sang-bum, who attended a closed-door briefing with officials from Seoul's National Intelligence Service.
In exchange for providing Russia with artillery shells and other ammunition, North Korea could seek badly needed energy and food aid and advanced weapons technologies, analysts say. There are concerns that potential Russian technology transfers would increase the threat posed by Kim’s growing arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles that are designed to target the United States and its Asian allies, South Korea and Japan.
Amid deepening nuclear tensions with Washington, Seoul and Tokyo, Kim has been trying to boost the visibility of his partnerships with Moscow and Beijing as he seeks to break out of diplomatic isolation and have North Korea be a part of a united front against the United States.
Kim in July invited delegations led by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Li Hongzhong to a huge military parade in Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, where he rolled out his most powerful weapons, including intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to target the U.S. mainland.
A day before the parade, Kim took Shoigu on a tour of a domestic arms exhibition, which demonstrated North Korea’s support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and added to suspicions the North was willing to supply arms to Russia.
Speaking at a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Wednesday, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol urged all U.N. member states to fulfill their obligations under existing Security Council resolutions to maintain sanctions against North Korea designed to limit its nuclear capabilities, including a ban on arms trade with the country, his office said in a statement. It did not say whether Yoon specifically mentioned Russia while expressing those concerns.
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