Senior Chinese envoy in N. Korea amid chill in ties

Chinese envoy Song Tao, left, is greeted by North Korean high official, Ri Chang Gun, after arriving with his delegation, Friday in Pyongyang, North Korea. (AP)
Updated 18 November 2017
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Senior Chinese envoy in N. Korea amid chill in ties

PYONGYANG: The highest-level Chinese envoy to North Korea in two years arrived in the country’s capital on Friday to try to improve relations that have soured over Beijing’s tightening of sanctions and expressions of support for US President Donald Trump’s calls for more pressure on the North to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
Song Tao’s official mission is to brief North Korean officials on the outcome of China’s ruling Communist Party congress held last month. He is visiting as President Xi Jinping’s special envoy, according to Chinese and North Korean state media, but no other details about his itinerary or whether he will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have been announced.
After arriving, Song met with Choe Ryong Hae, a vice chairman of the ruling party and one of the most senior leaders after Kim.
The visit is seen as an effort by Xi to explore a new approach in relations and likely also reflects Xi’s desire to head off further pressure from Washington.
China’s relations with North Korea have deteriorated under Kim, who has ignored Beijing’s calls to end the North’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests and return to disarmament talks.
North Korea staged its sixth nuclear test on Sept. 3, detonating what it said was a hydrogen bomb, and most recently launched a ballistic missile on Sept. 15, firing it over the Japanese island of Hokkaido into the Pacific Ocean.
China, North Korea’s largest trading partner, says its influence with Kim’s government is often exaggerated by the US and others. Beijing is opposed to measures that could bring down Kim’s regime and lead to a refugee crisis along its border, and while enforcing harsh new UN sanctions targeting North Korea’s sources of foreign currency it has called for steps to renew dialogue.
The visit comes as Joseph Yun, the US envoy for North Korea, met Friday with his South Korean counterpart, Lee Do-hoon, on the resort island of Jeju in South Korea.
“China, of course, has a big role to play on Northeast Asia security issues,” Yun was quoted by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency as saying, adding that he hopes China “regards the denuclearization as a critical goal. We do hope that special envoy will forward that goal.”
Song’s visit to North Korea also comes as China and South Korea are repairing their relations that soured over Seoul’s deployment of a US anti-missile system.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in is to visit China next month for talks with Xi.
Song is the first ministerial-level Chinese official to visit North Korea since October 2015, when Politburo Standing Committee member Liu Yunshan delivered a letter to Kim from Xi expressing hopes for a strong relationship, although the respite in frosty ties proved short-lived. Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin visited Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, in October last year.
Song heads the Communist Party’s International Department.


Macron reshuffles government, names new interior minister

Updated 16 October 2018
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Macron reshuffles government, names new interior minister

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron reshuffled his government on Tuesday after two weeks of fevered speculation about the changes, which will see former Socialist MP Christophe Castaner take up the key position of interior minister.
The reshuffle was forced by the unexpected resignation of former interior minister Gerard Collomb on October 2, a major blow to Macron as the 40-year-old head of state struggles with record low polling figures.
Castaner is one of the main figures in Macron’s inner circle, having backed him from the early stages of his campaign for the presidency, and currently serves as head of Macron’s party, the Republic on the Move.
Macron will hope the reshaped government — which includes new faces at the culture, agriculture, and the so-called “social cohesion” ministries — will signal a fresh start after a torrid few months.
The centrist suffered the first major scandal of his presidency in July when a security aide was filmed hitting a protester, while three ministers have quit since the beginning of September.
A slowing economy and concerns about spending power in France, coupled with a series of verbal gaffes that have given ammunition to his opponents, have also served to undermine his popularity.
Macron’s polling numbers have slumped to their lowest level since his electoral victory in May 2017, with surveys showing that only around 30 percent of French voters have a positive view of his presidency.