China has sent what it calls a "goodwill delegation" to North Korea as efforts continue to get Pyongyang to return to multi-nation talks on its nuclear ambitions. The visit comes as Washington's point man on the talks questions whether Pyongyang is serious about resolving the issue.
The delegation headed by Ma Wen, a top Chinese Communist Party official, left Beijing Tuesday for a series of meetings with North Korean officials. Analysts widely expect the Chinese side to raise the issue of six-party nuclear negotiations, which Pyongyang has boycotted since last year.
At a briefing Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao called the visit a "normal exchange" between the two sides and declined to give details of the agenda. Mr. Liu said he would have no information until after the meetings take place.
The visit comes after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Beijing last week called on China - North Korea's chief supplier of food and fuel - to do more to get Pyongyang to return to the negotiations.
North Korea's Prime Minister also visited Beijing last week and said his government is not opposed to resuming talks, but did not commit to a date. Pyongyang is also insisting on an apology for recent remarks by Secretary Rice, who called North Korea an "outpost of tyranny."
Speaking in Manila Tuesday after a meeting with Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, the leading U.S. negotiator to the talks, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, questioned North Korea's commitment to settling the dispute.
"For the North Koreans to be fixating on one statement and not addressing, or not being willing to address, the fundamental issues that bring us together, really calls into question how serious they are about the process," said Mr. Hill.
Three rounds of talks hosted by China since 2003 have brought together Japan, North and South Korea, Russia, and the United States but have failed to resolve the impasse. The dispute centers on North Korea's refusal to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs, which it has admitted to having in violation of international agreements.