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China's VP to visit North Korea shortly after Kim due to meet Putin

FILE - A huge North Korean flag is displayed during a celebration of the nation's 73rd anniversary at Kim Il Sung Square
FILE - A huge North Korean flag is displayed during a celebration of the nation's 73rd anniversary at Kim Il Sung Square Copyright North Korean handout
Copyright North Korean handout
By Daniel Bellamy with AP
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A Chinese delegation will visit the reclusive communist state soon after its president is expected to have made a rare trip to Russia to meet Putin.

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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 on Thursday.

The North's official Korean Central News Agency said the visit by the Chinese 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.

The report of a Chinese visit came amid speculation that North Korean leader Kim is preparing to visit Russia soon for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin that could focus on North Korean arms sales to refill Russian reserves drained by its war on 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.

If Kim's trip goes ahead it will be the first time he has left North Korea since the pandemic began, and only the second time he has visited Russia, signalling how important the relationship with Russia is to North Korea right now.

Kim has publicly backed Russia's war in Ukraine and analysts believe Putin will ask for weapons from North Korea as its arms supplies - particularly artillery - have dwindled.

In return, Kim is likely to ask for food supplies as North Koreans are suffering from widespread malnutrition.

Last month South Korea’s National Intelligence Service said that the food crisis is worsening. It stated that between January and July, the number of people who died from starvation doubled compared with comparable figures for the last five years.

Reports, including from 38 North, a specialist analytical publication on North Korea, suggest malnutrition is worse than at any time since the famine of the 1990s.

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 Defence 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.

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