New H7N9 bird flu strain in China has pandemic potential-study

CHICAGO, Oct 19 (Reuters) – Lab experiments on a new strain of the H7N9 bird flu circulating in China suggest the virus can transmit easily among animals and can cause lethal disease, raising alarms that the virus has the potential for triggering a global human pandemic, researchers reported on Thursday.

The H7N9 virus has been circulating in China since 2013, causing severe disease in people exposed to infected poultry. Last year, however, human cases spiked, and the virus split into two distinct strains that are so different they no longer succumb to existing vaccines.

 One of these has also become highly pathogenic, meaning it has gained the ability to kill infected birds, posing a threat to agriculture markets.

U.S. and Japanese researchers studied a sample of this new highly pathogenic strain to see how well it spread among mammals, including ferrets, which are considered the best animal model for testing the transmissibility of influenza in humans.

In the study published in Cell Host & Microbe, flu expert Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin and colleagues tested a version of the new H7N9 strain taken from a person who died from their infection last spring.

They found that the virus replicated efficiently in mice, ferrets and non-human primates, and that it caused even more severe disease in mice and ferrets than a low pathogenic version of the same virus that does not cause illness in birds.

To test transmissibility, the team placed healthy ferrets next to infected animals and found the virus spread easily from cage to cage, suggesting the virus can be transmitted by respiratory droplets such as those produced by coughing and sneezing.

Two out of three healthy ferrets infected in this way died, which Kawaoka said is “extremely unusual,” suggesting that even a small amount of virus can cause severe disease.

“The work is very concerning in terms of the implications for what H7N9 might do in the days ahead in terms of human infection,” said Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert from the University of Minnesota.

Since 2013, the H7N9 bird flu virus has already sickened at least 1,562 people in China and killed at least 612. Some 40 percent of people hospitalized with the virus die.

In the first four epidemics, the virus showed few changes. But last flu season, there were some 764 cases – nearly half of the 1,562 total.

“The whole world is worried about it,” Osterholm said.

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Deadly Bird Flu Rises Again in China Spreading in Newer Regions

Deadly Bird Flu Rises Again in China Spreading in Newer Regions

This previous year China had the biggest flare-up of a dangerous bird flu since the infection was first recognized in March 2013. For as long as five years, China had been flooding with virsues of H7N9 cases that took a toll around January and February.

Amid the 2017 season, the nation revealed almost the same number of cases as all four previous years’ together, analysts at the U.S. Communities for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Thursday. The infection surged up in more geographic districts as well. Apart this, it hinted at advancing in ways that cause concern. As NPR revealed in April, the infection has grabbed transformations that make it all the more dangerous in poultry and less vulnerable to antiviral therapeutics. According to what virologist Guan Yi told NPR, “Our exploration indicates it can kill every chicken in our lab within 24 hours”. H7N9 isn’t your common bird flu. H7N9 is “the flu infection with the most noteworthy potential pandemic hazard,” as the CDC writes in the journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. In individuals, H7N9 can cause a serious type of pneumonia and advance into septic shock and organ failures. Although the World Health Organization says, “We are aware of just few individuals who gave flu like side effects and after that recouped without therapeutic consideration”.

Non-contagious Nature to Prevent Flu from Spreading at Large Scale

Amid the 2017 episode, the Chinese government announced 759 instances of H7N9. There were 281 deaths — about 33% of those affected by it. By correlation in 2016 and 2015, the nation revealed 123 and 226 cases, separately. In spite of the fact that H7N9 can possibly develop in a worldwide risk, at this moment it has one serious constraint that confines its capability to spread: The infection doesn’t transmit effectively between individuals. Around 90 percent of individuals find the infection by taking care of poultry.

Deadly Bird Flu In China Evolves, Spreads To New Regions

A patient with the H7N9 avian flu is treated in a hospital in Wuhan, in central China’s Hubei province, in February of this year. The 2017 outbreak was the deadliest in China since H7N9 first appeared in humans in 2013.

AFP/Getty Images

This past year China had the largest outbreak of a deadly bird flu since the virus was first detected in March 2013.

For the past five years, China has had annual waves of H7N9 outbreaks that peak around January and February.

During the 2017 season, the country reported nearly the same number of cases as all four previous years combined, researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report Thursday. The virus cropped up in more geographic regions. And it showed signs of evolving in ways that cause concern.

As NPR reported in April, the virus has picked up mutations that make it more deadly in poultry and less susceptible to antiviral treatments. “Our research shows it can kill all the chickens in our lab within 24 hours,” virologist Guan Yi told NPR.

H7N9 isn’t your run-of-the-mill bird flu. H7N9 is “the influenza virus with the highest potential pandemic risk,” the CDC writes in the journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

In people, H7N9 can cause a severe form of pneumonia and progress into septic shock and multiorgan failure. “We know of only a small number of people who presented with influenza-like symptoms and then recovered without medical attention,” the World Health Organization says.

During the 2017 outbreak, the Chinese government reported 759 cases of H7N9. There were 281 deaths — about a third of those infected. By comparison in 2016 and 2015, the country reported 123 and 226 cases, respectively.

Although H7N9 has potential to evolve in a global threat, right now it has one severe limitation that restricts its potential to spread: The virus doesn’t transmit easily between people. About 90 percent of people catch the virus by handling poultry.

But person-to-person transmission is possible. During 2017, there were 14 clusters of cases in which a person passed the disease to at least one other person.

Since March 2013, there have been 1,557 cases of H7N9 reported worldwide. All infections were caught in China, Hong Kong or Macao. Nearly 40 percent of those infections were deadly.

Two Chinese cities close poultry markets after H7N9 bird flu infections

https://thehimalayantimes.com/health/two-chinese-cities-close-poultry-markets-h7n9-bird-flu-infections/

REUTERS

China will shut poultry markets in certain districts of two cities after H7N9 bird flu infections were detected, state media reported on Sunday, the latest incidents in this year’s more severe outbreak of the virus.

A 44-year-old man who sold poultry at a farmers market in southwestern Sichuan province’s Zigong city was diagnosed with H7N9, China News Service reported. Local authorities announced a one-month halt to poultry markets in the city’s Ziliujing district from midnight on Monday.

 

Separately, a 74-year old man who had visited poultry markets in Shandong province’s Binzhou city was also diagnosed with H7N9, China Central Television reported. Binzhou authorities will temporarily halt poultry markets in three of its districts.

Bird flu can jump from poultry to humans. Human cases of bird flu have been unusually high for China since last year, with three times more fatalities from H7N9 in the first four months of the year than in all of 2016. But deaths fell in April for the third consecutive month.


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In a victory for animal rights activists — and canines — China may have banned dog meat sales at festival

http://www.post-gazette.com/news/world/2017/05/19/In-a-victory-for-animal-rights-activists-and-canines-China-will-ban-dog-meat-sales-at-festival/stories/201705190136

BEIJING — Chinese authorities have banned dog meat sales at the country’s
notorious Yulin dog-eating festival, two U.S. nonprofit organizations
reported Wednesday in what animal rights advocates are calling a victory.

The annual festival in Yulin — a prefecture-level city in southwest China’s
Guangxi region — has in recent years emerged as a lightning rod for animal
rights activism, granting the sleepy city a degree of global infamy.
Activists say thousands of dogs — some of them abducted pets — are
slaughtered at the festival each year; they’re served alongside lychees and
grain alcohol to mark the summer solstice.

The Yulin government has banned the city’s dog meat vendors from selling
the meat for one week starting June 15, the U.S.-based Duo Duo Animal
Welfare Project and Humane Society International (HSI) said in a joint
statement, citing unidentified local contacts. The 10-day festival is
slated to begin June 21.

“Even if this is a temporary ban, we hope this will have a domino effect,
leading to the collapse of the dog meat trade,” Andrea Gung, executive
director of the Duo Duo Animal Welfare Project, said in the statement. “I
have visited Yulin many times in the last two years. This ban is consistent
with my experience that Yulin and the rest of the country are changing for
the better.”

The organizations attributed the change to Yulin’s new Communist Party
secretary, Mo Gongming, who reportedly wants to improve Yulin’s national
and international image. Penalties, they said, include a fine of up to
$14,500 and jail time.

While there have been previous attempts to curtail sales of dog meat, this
is believed to be the first time that the government had threatened
concrete penalties.

The report could not be independently verified. A man who answered the
phone at the Yulin municipal government, has never openly supported the
festival, denied that it even existed. “There’s never been a dog meat
festival in Yulin,” said the man, who only gave his surname, Luo. (The
festival’s existence is well-documented).

People in parts of southern and northeastern China have prized dog meat for
centuries, considering it a delicacy with “heating qualities” that make it
comforting on cool days.

Yet, as China becomes wealthier — and more exposed to foreign ideas — its
attitudes toward dogs are shifting. Dogs have become popular pets among the
country’s burgeoning middle and upper classes; in major cities, it’s common
to see poodles, Pekingese, golden retrievers and huskies bouncing through
public parks, some dressed by their owners in doggie clothing.

Peter Li, a China policy specialist at HSI, said that the festival’s dog
meat sales have dropped each year since 2014, but will probably continue
despite the ban.

“It won’t be public resistance — like, ‘you don’t want us to sell, but we
still will’ — but they’ll probably do it secretly,” he said. “They’ll
probably sell it at night, or they’ll supply dog meat to restaurants. They
just won’t sell it at the market.”

He added that the organization received “oral notice” of the ban from local
dog meat traders, as well as three visitors to a local market. He had not
seen documentation of the ban.

Most Chinese people desire an end to the controversial festival, China’s
official New China News Agency reported in June 2016, citing a survey.

“It is embarrassing to us that the world wrongly believes that the brutally
cruel Yulin festival is part of Chinese culture,” Qin Xiaona, director of
the Capital Animal Welfare Association charity, a Chinese animal welfare
group, told the agency. “It isn’t.”

But the Yulin government is reluctant to completely shut the festival down,
said an employee of a Chinese animal rights group that has been
communicating with local officials for years — they consider it a proud
local tradition. The employee requested anonymity as her organization, like
many activist groups in China, is under close scrutiny from national
authorities.

Although the officials have no problem considering cats and dogs as
sustenance, she added, some still oppose the festival, as its mass, public
slaughter of dogs violates food safety regulations.

Hollywood celebrities including Matt Damon, Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara
have pleaded for China to ban the festival. Last year, several animal
rights groups, including Duo Duo and HSI, amassed 11 million signatures on
a petition calling for its cancellation. Carrie Fisher, the late actress of
“Star Wars” fame, helped deliver it to China’s embassy in London.

“These poor dogs need us to fight for them,” she said at the time,
accompanied by her beloved French bulldog, Gary. “Every single one of them
is as precious as my dear Gary, every one of them is someone’s best friend.”

*The New York Times contributed.*

New bird flu strain raises pandemic fears in China

BY ON MAY 2, 2017

A new strain of avian influenza, which has high pathogenicity in poultry and can be deadly for humans has surfaced in China, raising fears of a potential pandemic, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported.

The FAO said the new strain represented a worrisome mutation of the H7N9 virus, because until now, it has shown low pathogenicity, meaning that it causes only mild or no illness in poultry. Data from China’s Guangdong province suggests, however, that the new strain has shifted to high pathogenicity in poultry while retaining its capacity to cause severe illness in humans.

Reports indicated that the new strain of H7N9 could lead to high mortality for birds within 48 hours of infection, which could subsequently cause serious economic losses for the poultry industry.

The FAO said that human cases of bird flu have been increasing in China, but did not link these with the new strain of the H7N9 virus. In its March update, the FAO said that 20 human cases were reported in Hunan, Jiangsu, Guangxi, Fujian, Guizhou, Chongqing, Shandong and Zhejiang provinces, and in its April 12 update, the FAO reported 16 more cases, as well as two detected in birds.

So far, there is no indication that the new strain of the virus has spread to wild birds, the FAO said, and it has not been detected in poultry in other countries.

“However, these countries (with poultry farms) remain at risk and need to be vigilant for a potential incursion of the virus, in a low or highly pathogenic form,” Matthew Stone, Deputy Director General of the World Organization for Animal Health said in a statement. “Constant surveillance of domestic poultry as well as wild birds by national veterinary services is essential to reduce the risks associated with virus spread and protect both animal and human health, as well as livelihoods.”

“China has embarked on intensified surveillance and results are awaited to better assess the epidemiology and potential spread of this new, highly pathogenic virus,” Sophie Von Dobschuetz, Animal Health Officer at FAO, said. “FAO, through its office in Beijing, is in regular dialogue with the ministry of agriculture and providing recommendations for surveillance and control.”

As in previous human cases of the infection, most of the recently reported human cases of bird flu in China were the result of visiting live bird markets or coming into contact with infected birds on farms. Stone said that prevention measures to curb the spread of the H7N9 virus should include laboratory testing, increased hygiene at live bird markets and on-farm biosecurity to reduce exposure.

Expert Calls for Greater Efforts to Fight H7N9 Flu

26 April 2017

CHINA – China has worked hard to prevent and control the spread of the H7N9 influenza virus, which this winter registered its largest outbreak since first being reported in China in 2013, but greater efforts are needed against the contagious disease, said Monique Eloit, director-general of the World Organization for Animal Health.

“Controlling avian flu is very difficult, because there are different strains, and sometimes there are no symptoms in animals with the disease,” Dr Eloit said on Monday during a visit to China.

“For the H7N9 strain, China’s Ministry of Agriculture developed a very comprehensive control programme with different complementary measures, especially for live bird markets, which were the main sources of contamination and risk for spreading the disease,” she said.

China recorded 192 human H7N9 cases, including 79 deaths in January. In January 2016, there were 28 cases, including five deaths, according to the National Health and Family Planning Commission, China’s top health authority.

The number of cases fell to 160 in February and 96 in March. Experts from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said the disease, which peaks in winter, was expected to drop off in late April.

Last year, China began taking measures against the virus, such as closing live poultry markets in provinces heavily hit by the virus such as Anhui and Hunan.

“I believe China significantly improved its capacity to control the diseases in animals,” Dr Eloit said.

“Unfortunately, avian flu is a very contagious disease, so if it is not controlled at the source it is a risk for humans and for other countries… because of global trade. Improvement of the control programme, and also improvement in transparency… should be the two main pillars of the Chinese strategy,” she said.

Efforts also should be adapted to changing situations. “The virus strain can change because sometimes wild birds are also infected,” she said.

While H7N9 generally is not transmitted from person to person, the World Health Organization has called for more vigilance in China and stressed the possibility that the virus may adapt to “facilitate efficient, sustained human-to-human transmission.”

Deadly new bird flu strain could lead to devastating pandemic

VIEW SLIDESHOW

You probably haven’t thought about the bird flu in a couple of years, unless you’re a virologist, but a new strain that resurfaced in China has the potential to be pandemic. The H7N9 virus only caused mild illness in poultry until recently, but a genetic change means the new strain is deadly for birds. Now, H7N9 has led to more human deaths this season than any other season since it was detected in people four years ago

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Between September and March 1, 162 people perished from H7N9. Human cases have increased since December, with reports from eight different provinces in China. Hong Kong University research lab director Guan Yi told NPR, “We’re trying our best, but we still can’t control this virus. It’s too late for us to eradicate it.”

Related: U.S. avian flu outbreak drives up the price of eggs as supplies are threatened

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) called for increased surveillance. FAO animal health officer Sophie Von Dobschuetz said China has started intensified observation while the FAO Beijing office has been providing recommendations for the country’s ministry of agriculture. As with past avian flu strains, patients said they were exposed to infected birds or went to live bird markets.

China, bird flu, avian flu, avian influenza, influenza, flu, virus, viruses, H7N9, H7N9 virus, chicken, chickens, bird, birds, health

Guan is concerned with how rapidly the H7N9 strain is evolving. He said ten years ago chickens were barely affected by the strain, but his lab’s research revealed the new strain can kill every chicken in his lab in 24 hours. There isn’t evidence the new strain will be deadlier in people, but when people do catch the virus from birds over one third of them perish. Guan said China’s government is already investigating vaccinating chickens.

“Today, science is more advanced, we have vaccines and it’s easy to diagnose. On the other hand, it now takes hours to spread new viruses all over the world,” Guan told NPR. “I think this virus poses the greatest threat to humanity than any other in the past 100 years.”

Via SciDev.net and NPR

Bird Flu Pandemic Hasn’t Changed Atrocious Conditions at Poultry Farms

Posted on April 17, 2017

http://koreabizwire.com/bird-flu-pandemic-hasnt-changed-atrocious-conditions-at-poultry-farms/80831

The government’s recent move to encourage bigger cages in order to prevent another avian influenza from spreading on a massive scale like the one which transpired last November is being met with a lukewarm reception and skepticism among critics over the lax nature of the newly introduced rules. (Image: Kobiz Media)

The government’s recent move to encourage bigger cages in order to prevent another avian influenza from spreading on a massive scale like the one which transpired last November is being met with a lukewarm reception and skepticism among critics over the lax nature of the newly introduced rules. (Image: Kobiz Media)

SEOUL, April 17 (Korea Bizwire) – Despite new government measures that require farmers to make use of larger cages, the horrific conditions that poultry live under at typical factory farms in South Korea are unlikely to change soon, which have been identified as one of the major factors behind the recent influenza Type A pandemic that causes illness to people.

The government’s recent move to encourage bigger cages in order to prevent another avian influenza from spreading on a massive scale like the one which transpired last November is being met with a lukewarm reception and skepticism among critics over the lax nature of the newly introduced rules.

Existing poultry farms will have 10 years to update their old cages in accordance with the new standards, but critics say the grace period is too long, and that simply making cages slightly bigger won’t get to the root of the problem.

According to current laws regarding poultry farming, chickens are being raised in a space smaller the size of an A4 sheet of paper (0.05 square meters or 0.5 square feet), which means 1 square meter per 20 chickens. When the new rules take place, poultry farms will be required to have their cages built at least 0.075 square meters in size.

The EU already banned (in 2003) the construction of any more of the so-called battery cages, a term that refers to small wire cages in which hens spend their entire lives with little to no space to move around. Since a total ban on battery cages took place in 2012, an increasing number of farmers have adopted free-range farming.

South Korean poultry farms however, have been bucking the trend and engaging in activities that border on animal cruelty, such as keeping the lights on during the night to maximize egg production, exploiting a physiological phenomenon in which a drastic environmental change suddenly increases the egg production of hens.

Despite opposition from animal rights groups, little has been done to secure the wellbeing of farm animals in South Korea.

A representative from the Korea Association for Animal Protection (KAAP), Lee Won-bok, was critical of the government’s move to tackle avian influenza, calling it a ‘makeshift plan’ that will bring little to no change.

“AI pandemics occur almost every year due to the poor living conditions of farm animals, not because of the size of cages,” Lee said.

Hyunsu Yim (hyunsu@koreabizwire.com)

China Warns of ‘Storm Clouds Gathering’ in U.S.-North Korea Standoff

Photo

Portraits of Kim Il-sung, left, and Kim Jong-il, the first two leaders of North Korea, in Pyongyang, the capital, on Thursday. Kim Il-sung’s birthday is on Saturday, an occasion often marked by shows of military might.CreditEd Jones/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

HONG KONG — China warned on Friday that tensions on the Korean Peninsula could spin out of control, as North Korea said it could test a nuclear weapon at any time and an American naval group neared the peninsula in a show of resolve.

“The United States and South Korea and North Korea are engaging in tit for tat, with swords drawn and bows bent, and there have been storm clouds gathering,” China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said in Beijing, according to Xinhua, the state news agency.

“We urge all sides to no longer engage in mutual provocation and threats, whether through words or deeds, and don’t push the situation to the point where it can’t be turned around and gets out of hand,” Mr. Wang said after meeting with his visiting French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault, according to Xinhua.

“No matter who it is, if they let war break out on the peninsula, they must shoulder that historical culpability and pay the corresponding price for this,” Mr. Wang said.

His comments were the bluntest this week from China, which has been trying to steer between the Trump administration’s demands for it to do more to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and its longstanding reluctance to risk a rupture with the North, its neighbor and longtime partner. In a phone conversation with Mr. Trump on Wednesday, China’s president, Xi Jinping, also called for restraint.

The North Korean military issued a statement on Friday threatening to attack major American military bases in South Korea, as well as the presidential Blue House, warning that it could annihilate those targets “within minutes.”

The statement also denounced what it called the Trump administration’s “maniacal military provocations,” like threats of possible unilateral action coming from Washington and the deployment of warships in waters near the Korean Peninsula.

INTERACTIVE FEATURE

North Korea May Be Preparing Its 6th Nuclear Test

Growing evidence suggests that North Korea may soon conduct another underground detonation in its effort to make nuclear arms.

OPEN INTERACTIVE FEATURE

“Nothing will be more foolish if the United States thinks it can deal with us the way it treated Iraq and Libya, miserable victims of its aggression, and Syria, which did not respond immediately even after it was attacked,” a spokesman of the General Staff of the North’s People’s Army said in a statement carried by its official Korean Central News Agency.

Analysts say recent satellite images from North Korea suggest that it might soon carry out another underground detonation, despite pointed warnings by the United States not to do so.

On Saturday, the North marks the 105th anniversary of the birth of its founder, Kim Il-sung, and it often uses such occasions as an opportunity to show off its military advances. The country said it could test a nuclear weapon whenever its current leader, Kim Jong-un, decided.

With a United States Navy strike group led by the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson diverted to the region, North Korea’s vice minister, Han Song-ryol, said on Friday that the United States was “becoming more vicious and aggressive” under President Trump and that “we will go to war if they choose.”

Mr. Han said whether North Korea holds another nuclear test would be “something that our headquarters decides.” But he added an ominous coda: “At a time and at a place where the headquarters deems necessary, it will take place.”

Mr. Han’s remarks, made to The Associated Press, typified the often bellicose language of the North’s leaders and its state news media. But as Pyongyang’s weapons technology rapidly advances and the United States is led by an unpredictable new president, some of its neighbors were examining worst-case scenarios.

The Japanese news media reported that the government’s National Security Council had been discussing the possible evacuation of an estimated 57,000 Japanese citizens in South Korea, should war break out. “We will take all necessary steps to protect our people’s lives and assets,” said Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary. The Kyodo news agency said the council was concerned about the possibility of North Korean refugees arriving in boats on its shores.

Photo

A preflight operations check on the United States aircraft carrier Carl Vinson in the South China Sea last week. The carrier, along with other warships, neared the Korean Peninsula this week.CreditMatt Brown/U.S. Navy, via Getty Images

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan expressed concern on Thursday that North Korea could have the ability to deliver missiles equipped with sarin, the nerve agent whose recent use against civilians in Syria prompted Mr. Trump to order a missile strike there.

Russia, another neighbor of North Korea, echoed China in urging all parties on Friday to exercise caution. A Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, called on “all the countries to refrain from any actions that could amount to provocative steps,” Reuters reported.

In South Korea, whose people have lived through saber-rattling involving the North for decades, there were few signs of panic. Nonetheless, the South Korean Foreign Ministry warned on Friday that if the North conducted another nuclear test or launched an intercontinental ballistic missile, it would suffer an “unbearably strong punishment.” All the major candidates in the presidential election set for next month have called on the United States not to do anything that might initiate war on the peninsula without first seeking the consent of South Korea, its military ally.

Further raising fears was a report by NBC News that the United States was prepared to take pre-emptive military action against North Korea if it became convinced that the North was preparing to test a nuclear weapon. The report, which cited unidentified intelligence officials, was vigorously denied by people in the Trump administration. The Defense Department said only that it would not “publicly speculate on possible scenarios.”

Alluding to the Trump administration’s decision to send a naval flotilla to the region, North Korea accused the United States of introducing “nuclear strategic assets” to the peninsula and “pushing the situation there to the brink of war.”

“This has created a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out any moment on the peninsula,” said a statement attributed to the Institute for Disarmament and Peace of the North Korean Foreign Ministry.

As North Korea celebrates its founder’s birthday with what is expected to be a large military parade in Pyongyang, the capital, this weekend, Vice President Mike Pence will be headed to South Korea, starting a 10-day tour of the region on Sunday, with the North expected to be a prime topic.

In his remarks in Beijing, Mr. Wang said there was still hope for renewed negotiations with North Korea on its weapons program. “There can also be flexibility about the form of renewed talks,” he said. “As long as there’s dialogue, formal or informal, first-track or second-track, bilateral, trilateral, quadrilateral, China is willing to support this.”

The United States has said it will not negotiate with the North unless it first shows that it is serious about ending its nuclear arms program and not merely playing for time.

China hosted multinational talks during the 2000s aimed at ending the North’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and it has voted in favor of United Nations sanctions to punish Pyongyang for continuing its weapons development. But Chinese trade and aid have remained a lifeline for the North Korean economy and so far, Beijing has been reluctant to sever economic ties there.

Two months ago, China announced it had suspended coal imports from North Korea. But while those coal shipments seem to have dried up, Chinese overall trade with North Korea has remained robust. On Thursday, China revealed that its trade with North Korea grew 37.4 percent in the first quarter of 2017, compared with the same period in 2016.

Chinese news outlets reported on Friday that Air China, the country’s main international airline, would suspend flights to Pyongyang starting on Monday, leaving only Air Koryo of North Korea operating flights between Pyongyang and Beijing or other Chinese cities. The move appeared to have been in the works for some time; NK News, a website about North Korea, reported last month that the suspension was likely, saying that Air China’s services were underused and that its flights were often canceled.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said this week that the Trump administration should not expect China to risk instability in North Korea by going along with choking sanctions.

297COMMENTS

China and North Korea are “neighbors with traditional friendly ties, including normal trade activities,” a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Lu Kang, told reporters on Thursday.

He added, “We strongly hope that all parties concerned will not pin all their hopes on sanctions only.”