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China's Xi visits South Korea in snub to North

SEOUL - China's president arrived in Seoul Thursday for a state visit seen as a snub to Beijing's traditional ally North Korea, whose nuclear weapons ambitions will dominate talks with South Korean leader Park Geun-Hye.

It was Xi Jinping's first trip as head of state to the perennially volatile Korean peninsula, and will mark his second summit with Park, who visited China last year.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un is still waiting for an invitation to Beijing -- a calculated rebuff that speaks to the strained relationship between Pyongyang and its historic and most important ally.

"No previous Chinese leader has put South Korea before and above the North like this," said Aidan Foster-Carter, a Korea expert at Leeds University.

In what some saw as a display of pique at Xi's visit, North Korea conducted a series of rocket and missile launches over the past week and pledged further tests in the future.

And Pyongyang scored a diplomatic victory of its own Thursday, as Japan announced it was revoking some of its unilateral sanctions on North Korea after progress in talks on the Cold War kidnapping of Japanese nationals.

Japan and North Korea do not have formal diplomatic ties, and the announcement by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a significant step forward for a relationship that has been testy for decades.

Strong line on North Korea?

After Xi and Park hold their summit, the two leaders are expected to sign a joint communique, with Seoul hoping for a strong statement on North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.

But analysts said Beijing was unlikely to up the rhetorical ante by any significant degree.

"That would go against China's traditional diplomatic pattern," said Kim Joon-Hyung, professor of politics at Handong Global University.

"Xi will probably keep to the general line of urging the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, rather than criticising the North directly," Kim added.

As the North's diplomatic protector and chief economic benefactor, China has repeatedly been pressured by the international community to use its leverage to rein in Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

But while Beijing has become increasingly frustrated with the North's missile and nuclear tests, it remains wary of penalising the isolated state too heavily.

It is especially anxious to avoid any regime collapse that would result in a unified Korea with a US troop presence on its border.

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 Japan prime minister says military shift of historic significance 
Chinese President Xi Jinping, foreground left, and Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan, foreground right, inspect an honor guard upon their arrival at Seoul Military Airport in Seongnam, South Korea. Thursday, July 3.

(AP)

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