Chinese President Xi Jinping traveled to the northeastern city of Shenyang near the border with North Korea on Monday in a trip that could be seen as a message of willingness to improve relations with Pyongyang, diplomatic sources said.
Xi made a one-day visit to Shenyang and stressed the importance of promoting industrial bases in the northeastern region, according to local businessmen and diplomatic sources. Xi also called for greater efforts to open up the province of Liaoning, they said.
The visit came just nine days after Xi traveled to the nearby province of Jilin on July 16-18, a trip seen as leaving open the possibility of economic cooperation with North Korea.
Such successive visits to the northeast region near the North are considered unusual, and some observers interpret these trips as a message of his willingness to mend fences with Pyongyang.
Relations between North Korea and China significantly soured after Xi took office in late 2012 and the North carried out its third nuclear test a few months later, a provocative move seen as a slight to Beijing.
Xi has neither visited the North nor met with its young leader, Kim Jong-un, although he visited the South and held a series of summit meetings with South Korean President Park Geun-hye. He is the first Chinese leader to visit South Korea before North Korea.
In a move seen as an olive branch to China, the North's leader also expressed gratitude for China's help during the 1950-53 Korean War as he delivered a speech marking the end of the conflict. Kim did not even mention China in a similar speech last year.
China has long been the main provider of economic aid and diplomatic support for the North.
Analysts say that China, which considers North Korea as something of a buffer zone, fears that pushing Pyongyang too hard could lead to its collapse, instability on its border and ultimately the emergence of a pro-U.S. nation next door. (Yonhap)