China leader Xi Jinping on Thursday, June 20, began a two-day state visit to North Korea, less than two weeks before he is expected to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump at the G-20 summit in Japan.

Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) has not any updated news about the visit. A old announcement on its website dated June 17 said Xi would pay a state visit to the country from June 20 to 21 at the invitation of Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea and chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The Seoul-based Korea Herald reported Xi touched down in Pyongyang at the midday of Thursday, making him the first Chinese leader to have a state visit to North Korea in 14 years.

Kim Jong Un and his wife Ri Sol-ju received Xi at the Pyongyang Airport.

Though this is the first time Xi visits Pyongyang as president, he has four summits with Kim since early last year.

This visit is fanning speculations of changes in the geopolitical dynamics on the Korean Peninsula and denuclearization talks.

North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun on Wednesday carried an op-ed piece by Xi, in which he said Beijing would work with Pyongyang and other concerned parties to bring progress in issues surrounding the peninsula.

Because Xi is scheduled to meet with President Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in Osaka, Japan, in two weeks, the visit to Pyongyang has raised speculations surrounding China’s role in North Korean issues.

President Trump on Tuesday confirmed he and Chinese counterpart had a good phone conversation and agreed to hold an “extended meeting” at the G-20 summit on June 28-29.

Along with talks about trade tensions, the U.S. and Chinese leaders are expected to discuss about North Korea.

Korea Herald citing Professor Kim Hyun-wook at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy said Xi could use North Korea to escalate tensions with Washington, but that the more likely possibility is he using Pyongyang as a bargaining chip in the U.S.-China relations.

“(China) could increase its influence and participation in Korean Peninsula issues, and change the situation from that of confrontation to that of dialogue. And lead North Korea (to the negotiation table) and use that as a card in dealing with the U.S. at the G-20 summit,” he said.

However, North Korea is unlikely to be persuaded to take the “big deal” the U.S. wants, a necessary change in Pyongyang’s position for the deal to work, he said.

“The possibility that the North will engage in dialogue (with the U.S.) as a result of Xi’s visit is low. In the end, what will be left is China gaining larger influence on North Korean, and Korean Peninsula issues,” the professor said.

For North Korea, Xi’s visit shows the possibility of using Beijing as a mediator in dealing with the U.S. if China decides to take a more direct hand in the denuclearization process, he said.

Includes reporting from Korea Herald.

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