North Korean Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Ku Bon-tae touched down in Beijing Monday for talks on expanding bilateral economic cooperation, which are expected to include discussions on agriculture, rail and electricity networks, as well as development assistance. The visit came less than two weeks after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held talks with Xi Jinping in Beijing.
The economic delegation's visit, ahead of Pompeo's visit to Pyongyang on Thursday, is in line with the pattern of meetings between high level North Korean and Chinese officials ahead of both the inter-Korean summit in April and last month's Kim-Trump summit.
"Mike Pompeo will also possibly try to negotiate with Pyongyang, to offer some sort of arrangements related to economic development. Therefore, in all probability, the North Korean delegation in Beijing is trying to understand what China has to offer them. What is clear is that Pyongyang expects China's proposals to be better than those of the Americans. At the same time, they know and appreciate their experience of economic cooperation with both Russia and China," Asmolov said.
Lu Chao, the head of the Center for DPRK-ROK Studies at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told Sputnik that Pyongyang has clearly recognized the need for Chinese support in reorienting its economic development strategy. Beijing, he noted, has consistently encouraged its neighbor to do so, and to change North Korean behavior through trade and economic incentives. With Pyongyang signaling its intention to refrain from nuclear provocations, the ideal moment for such cooperation has arrived, according to Lu.
"Kim Jong-un has already visited China three times this year. On Sunday and Monday, he visited a Sino-Korean special economic cooperation zone in North Pyongan province. He also inspected a cosmetics factory in the special administrative region of Sinuiju, on the border with China. It can be seen that Pyongyang has the will to further strengthen economic cooperation with China," the scholar explained.
North Korea's diplomats are working on creating a mechanism to remove UN sanctions, and it's likely that the subject was broached during the North Korean delegation's latest visit to Beijing. Pyongyang hopes it can count on China lobbying to remove sanctions and provide development assistance and economic investment, but will also have to convince Washington regarding its commitment to abandon its nuclear program.
The easing of tensions on the Korean peninsula has prompted a revival of discussions on a number of regional economic projects, including initiatives between the Koreas, but also North Korea and China, and Pyongyang and Moscow.