Head of China’s Rubber-Stamp Legislature to Visit North Korea for Its 70th Birthday

September 4, 2018 Updated: September 4, 2018

BEIJING—Chinese leader Xi Jinping will send Li Zhanshu, head of China’s rubber-stamp legislature, to Pyongyang this weekend for celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of North Korea, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

North Korea is preparing to host a number of major events for the Sept. 9 anniversary, including a military parade, possible visits by foreign delegations, and—for the first time in five years—a massive choreographed performance known as the “Mass Games.”

There had been speculation in diplomatic circles that Xi himself would go. Xi and North Korea’s youthful leader, Kim Jong Un, have met three times this year, each time in China, as the Communist allies have solidified relations.

Xinhua gave few details about the visit of Li, who is the third-most-senior member of the Chinese Communist Party, aside from saying he would arrive on Sept. 8.

In a separate report, North Korea’s state-run KCNA news agency said Li would visit “from Sept. 8,” without saying how long he would stay.

North Korea is locked in a standoff with the United States over its nuclear and missile programs. Kim met U.S. President Donald Trump in June and agreed to “work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” but negotiations since then appear to have stalled, with both sides increasingly criticizing the other for a lack of progress.

Trump last month cancelled a planned visit to North Korea by his top diplomat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, citing insufficient progress in the denuclearization talks.

Trump has questioned China’s role in helping to resolve the crisis over North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons that threaten the United States. He’s said that while China is exerting “tremendous pressure,” it is also supplying Pyongyang with “considerable aid.”

Several Chinese ships have been spotted making illicit oil transfers to North Korean cargo ships, against international sanctions.

By Ben Blanchard