A special envoy of Chinese President Xi Jinping met Saturday with North Korea's top official in charge of foreign affairs, at a time when the international community is trying to compel Pyongyang to change course.
Song Tao, head of the Chinese Communist Party's International Department, and Ri Su Yong, a vice chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea who formerly served as foreign minister, discussed the situation on the Korean Peninsula, regional affairs and bilateral issues, the Korean Central News Agency said.
The North Korean official news agency's report provided no other information about what they discussed, but it is likely Song raised the issue of Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.
The meeting in Pyongyang came a day after Song met with Choe Ryong Hae, the closest aide of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and the two agreed to promote the development of the "traditional friendly" relations between the two countries.
Song's visit comes amid a two-month pause in North Korea's weapons testing, and about a week after U.S. President Donald Trump and Xi agreed to strengthen cooperation toward achieving the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Song's is the first known visit by a high-ranking Chinese official to North Korea since October last year.
China has said the purpose of Song's visit is to inform North Korea of the results of the ruling party's twice-a-decade congress held late last month.
But as China has been under pressure from the United States and other countries to play a bigger role in reining in North Korea, it would not be a surprise if Song brought up the nuclear issue.
Chinese official media have warned not to foster high expectations over Song's visit.
The Global Times, an influential tabloid affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party, said in an editorial on Saturday that Song is "not a magician."
"The key to easing the situation on the peninsula lies in the hands of Washington and Pyongyang," it said. "If both sides insist on their own logic and refuse to move in the same direction, even if Song opens a door for talks, the door could be closed anytime."
China has said the North Korean nuclear issue must be resolved through "dialogue and consultation," not just by applying pressure on Pyongyang, and has proposed a so-called suspension-for-suspension approach to break the stalemate.
The approach requires South Korea and the United States to suspend joint military exercises in exchange for North Korea freezing its nuclear and missile activities.
China has long argued that the crux of the nuclear issue is about security problems between North Korea and the United States.
North Korea has refrained from conducting a major arms test since Sept. 15, when it fired a ballistic missile that flew about 3,700 kilometers, the farthest a North Korean missile has ever traveled and enough to strike the U.S. territory of Guam where key military bases are located.
Despite the hiatus, North Korea has repeatedly said it has no plans to accept the Chinese suspension-for-suspension proposal and abandon its quest to develop a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile.
North Korea has claimed that its arms development program is a legitimate right to self-defense that is vital to deter U.S. aggression.
Song is expected to stay in Pyongyang until Monday, according to a source familiar with the situation, and he could potentially meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un before returning to Beijing.