Chinese envoy ends N.Korea trip

This picture taken on November 17, 2017 and released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency shows Song Tao (3rd L)attending a meeting with Choe Ryong Hae (2nd R), a senior official of the North's ruling party

A Chinese special envoy on Monday ended a four-day trip to North Korea during which the two sides discussed regional concerns but made no direct statements about the nuclear crisis.

Officially, Song Tao was sent by President Xi Jinping to report on the outcome of the Chinese Communist Party's recent congress.

Analysts had expected that Song would press North Korean officials on the nuclear standoff, but did not expect any breakthroughs.

The trip came a week after US President Donald Trump urged Beijing to do more to rein in its Cold War-era ally, warning that time was quickly running out to resolve the crisis.

Song's visit was the first by a senior Chinese envoy for more than a year.

Relations are severely stressed over Pyongyang's sabre-rattling -- with missile launches and a sixth nuclear test -- and Beijing's support for tough UN sanctions on its neighbour.

China's official Xinhua news agency said the two sides "exchanged views on issues of common concern", including "issues on the Korean peninsula", along with relations between the two countries and their ruling communist parties.

The brief report said they agreed to "strengthen inter-party contacts and exchanges and push for the development of China-North Korea relations".

Bonnie Glaser, China specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told AFP that it was difficult to unpick the true tenor of the trip.

"I doubt that the nuclear issue figured prominently in this visit. China appears eager to prevent its ties with the DPRK from deteriorating and, if possible, improve them," she said.

There has been no mention of any meeting between Song and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

When the North sent an envoy to Beijing after its own party congress last year, the official met Xi.

- Testing ties -

As Song wrapped up his trip, South Korea announced that Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-Wha would travel to Beijing on Tuesday to prepare for a December visit by President Moon Jae-In.

Kang's meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi is also expected to cover ways to "work together in seeking a peaceful resolution to the North Korean nuclear issue", the South's foreign ministry said in a statement.

Relations between China and South Korea have also been strained by the nuclear crisis, with Beijing angry at Seoul for hosting a US missile defence system.

South Korea and the United States say the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system is intended to counter missile threats from North Korea.

China sees it as a threat to its own military capabilities. It has slapped a series of measures on South Korean firms and banned its tour groups from visiting the country in moves seen as economic retaliation.

But the two countries have been seeking to improve ties in recent weeks.

"China is always committed to moving forward the bilateral ties on the basis of mutual respect and win-win cooperation," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular news briefing.