North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's special envoy Wednesday held talks with a senior Communist Party of China (CPC) official in Beijing, signaling an attempt by Pyongyang to break out of the increasing isolation it has felt from the international community throughout the latest round of tensions.
Choe Ryong-hae, vice marshal of the Korean People's Army and member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), arrived in Beijing on Wednesday, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.
Choe, among the highest ranking North Korean officials to visit China since late leader Kim Jong-il's trip in August 2011, was accompanied by senior officials from the military and the WPK.
Xinhua carried a brief piece about Choe's meeting with Wang Jiarui, head of the CPC Central Committee's International Department, without revealing any details. Hong Lei, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, later Wednesday announced that during Choe's visit, China and North Korea would exchange views on the Korean Peninsula situation and issues of common concern.
It remained unclear whether Chinese President Xi Jinping or other top officials would meet Choe or how long the special envoy would stay.
Many analysts believed the visit seeks to repair bilateral ties and explain Pyongyang's position over recent tensions.
Zhang Xiaoan, a deputy head of the UN Association of China, told the Global Times that the North has complaints about China siding with the international community to punish it, but will still attempt to soothe situation as the North "cannot continue with this tough attitude."
China voted to toughen sanctions against Pyongyang in March, following the North's nuclear test in February. The Bank of China earlier this month halted business with the North's main bank.
The seizing of a Chinese fishing boat for extortion by armed North Koreans also led to public outrage in China, although the boat and crew members were released earlier this week.
The visit also came ahead of a summit between Chinese and US leaders in early June and South Korean President Park Geun-hye's meeting with Xi expected in late June.
Zhang Liangui, an expert on North Korea at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, told the Global Times that Pyongyang is attempting to influence China's diplomacy.
"The North's provocations backfired and have pushed China and the US closer together, resulting in more frequent high-level exchanges between the two countries. So it is trying a new way to sabotage Sino-US ties," said Zhang Liangui.
Zhu Feng, a professor at the School of International Studies of Peking University, told the Global Times on Wednesday that Pyongyang is not likely to soften its tone during the visit, as this could be seen as a concession to China.
Zhu noted that judging from the limited coverage given by Xinhua, Beijing is not reacting warmly to the attempts.
Observers speculate that Choe will also try to secure a summit between Kim and Chinese leaders in Beijing, which could serve as a boost for the young leader and convey a message to the US, South Korea and Japan that Beijing still supports the North.
But Zhu said China was unlikely to grant such a summit any time soon. "A precondition for the summit would be Kim vowing to abandon the pursuit of nuclear weapons and return to the Six-Party Talks, which he wouldn't do," he said.
However, Zhu said China is not going to let Choe leave empty-handed, noting it is likely to provide much-needed aid to the impoverished neighbor.
Northeast Asia expert Wang Dong of Peking University called Choe's trip a "somewhat encouraging sign" that Pyongyang might be open to talks.
"The question of course will be how serious North Korea will be," he said.
Agencies contributed to this story