A group of North Korean political and military leaders has arrived in Beijing for diplomatic talks. China is under pressure from the US to keep North Korea's nuclear ambitions from getting out of control.
Choe Ryong Hae, a top official from North Korea's Workers' Party, led the delegation which departed Pyongyang on Wednesday.
He was received by officials from the International Department of China's communist party.
The visit is seen as one of the most significant since Kin Jung Un took over as North Korean leader following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in December 2011. It comes a day after North Korea released 16 Chinese fishermen who were seized and held for ransom two weeks ago. The incident served as further source of tension between the neighboring allies.
China has been under pressure from the US to persuade North Korea to reduce its nuclear ambitions. Tensions between Pyongyang, Seoul, and Washington have been high since North Korea conducted a third nuclear test in February and issued provocative militaristic statements aimed at the West.
The nuclear test was followed by increased sanctions from the United Nations, which China has also upheld. China is North Korea's biggest ally and also a major economic partner.
Meanwhile, Japan has indicated it may be ready to make a step toward improving ties with North Korea. On Wednesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said bilateral talks with North Korea are on the table over the issue of abductions in the 1970s and 80s of Japanese citizens accused of being spies by North Korea.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed on Sunday that he would seek to resolve the issue with North Korea, but this would entail the release of the abducted citizens.
mz/ccp (Reuters, AFP, AP)