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China’s Premier Li Keqiang set for summit on refugees and migrants at UN General Assembly

China’s Premier Li Keqiang is attending his first meeting of the United Nations General Assembly as premier this week, since taking up the role three years ago.

He is expected to chair a symposium on sustainable development during the seven-day, 71st session and also hold meetings with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and US President Barack Obama, both of whom will be attending their final session before leaving office, Xinhua news agency reported.

About 135 heads of state and government, plus dozens of ministers are expected to attend the latest session.

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The refugee crisis and the Syrian conflict are widely expected to top the agenda at annual ministerial meeting, while North Korea’s latest nuclear test is likely to be one of the main topics of discussion between world leaders at this session.

China’s Foreign Ministry said Li was likely to address China’s position on the current world order, global governance and peace and development, and also announce a range of measures to support the UN in dealing with the international challenges. Observers are eagerly waiting to see what Li touches on.

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Beijing is now stepping up its engagement in Syrian issues. Its latest move came on August 14 when China reached a deal with Damascus to provide aid and training to the Syrian government – something that observers said would give Beijing a bigger say in both a solution to problems in Syria and also in the Middle East.

In March, China named Xie Xiao­yan, the former ambassador to Iran, as its special envoy to Syria.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi had said earlier that he would invite representatives of Syria’s government and opposition for talks to promote a political settlement.

Although China has sided with Russia on UN Security Council resolutions on Syria, Beijing has refrained from direct involvement in the conflict, whereas Moscow has helped the Syrian government conduct air strikes against rebels.

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Refugees and migrants

Li is expected join a high-level summit to address the large movement of refugees and migrants on Monday (New York time), and a declaration is expected to be adopted at the summit, according to the assembly’s agenda,

China joined the International Organisation for Migration in July, and Beijing hopes to play a bigger role in issues involving refugees, although experts said that it would take time for China to open its borders to international refugees.

According to UN High Commissioner for Refugees, an “unprecedented” 65.3 million people – including 21.3 million refugees – were displaced at the end of 2015. This was more than five million more than the previous year and the highest number since the second world war.

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North Korea’s nuclear test

The 71st session is being held amid the rising tensions in the Korean Peninsula after Pyongyang’s fifth and largest nuclear test.

As Pyongyang’s most important diplomatic backer and trading partner, Beijing has expressed anger with North Korea over the latest nuclear test, but it has not said directly whether it would support tougher sanctions. It has called for a return to talks, rather than sanctions, to solve the disputes.

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The next UN secretary-general?

Ban will step down after a decade in his role by the end of this year, so the question about the identity of his successor – the UN’s ninth secretary-general – is sure to be a hot topic.

The UN Security Council – with China as a permanent member – will hold its fifth straw poll on September 26 before a real vote, which is likely to take place in October.