Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived Thursday morning for a two-day state visit to North Korea, where he is expected to talk with leader Kim Jong Un about the stalled negotiations with Washington over North Korea's nuclear weapons.
A photo posted by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV on its mobile app showed a large welcoming contingent including a military band at the airport in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.
China's Xinhua News Agency said that Xi was accompanied by his wife, Peng Liyuan, and several Communist Party officials. He is the first Chinese president to visit North Korea in 14 years.
The summit comes as both Xi and Kim are locked in separate disputes with the United States — Xi over trade and Kim over his nuclear weapons.
A Xinhua commentary said China could play a unique and constructive role in breaking the cycle of mistrust between North Korea and the U.S. so they can work out a roadmap to achieve denuclearization.
The U.S. is demanding that North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons development before international sanctions are lifted. North Korea is seeking a step-by-step approach in which a step toward its denuclearization would be matched by a concession from the U.S., notably a relaxation of economic sanctions.
China backs what it calls a "suspension for suspension" proposal. Xinhua said both sides "need to have reasonable expectations and refrain from imposing unilateral and unrealistic demands."
A former North Korean diplomat who defected in 2016 said he thinks Kim wants to give Xi a message to deliver to President Donald Trump when the two meet at next week's G-20 summit in Japan.
Thae Yong Ho, speaking at a news conference in Tokyo, said that Kim may offer some kind of compromise on his country's nuclear facilities to set up a third summit with the U.S. president. Thae was in Japan to promote the Japanese translation of his book.
U.S.-North Korea talks have been stalled since Kim and Trump met for the second time in February in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Experts say Xi will likely endorse North Korea's calls for an incremental disarmament process.
Chinese and North Korea media have said Xi would stay in Pyongyang for two days. His meeting with Kim would be their fifth summit since Kim entered nuclear diplomacy with the United States and South Korea early last year.
In an essay published in both countries' official media before his trip, Xi praised North Korea for moving in the "right direction" by politically resolving issues on the peninsula. He did not mention Kim's nuclear diplomacy with the U.S. in the article, much of which focused on lauding the neighbors' seven-decade relationship. Xi said his visit will "strengthen strategic communication and exchange" between the traditional, though sometimes strained, allies.
The nations fought together in the 1950-53 Korean War against the United States, South Korea and their allies, but there has been friction in recent years, especially over the North's relentless push for nuclear weapons.