China's President is on a three-day visit to North Korea that Pyongyang says will help "peace and security" in Asia. President Jiang Zemin is expected to encourage his communist neighbor to ease tensions with South Korea and the United States.
It is a measure of North Korea's isolation that the head of its next door neighbor and only ally, China, has not visited in nine years.
Relations between Pyongyang and Beijing cooled during the early 1990s as China established ties with rival South Korea, which has a strong economy and is an important market for China.
Mr. Jiang's visit follows efforts by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il to expand his foreign ties. North Korea has recently established ties with Australia, Britain and other nations, and Mr. Kim recently made a long rail journey to meet Russian leaders following two secretive trips to China.
China is expected to offer some financial aid and closer economic ties to the wrecked communist economy of the famine-stricken North, which relies on foreign help to feed millions of its citizens.
Political analysts say Mr. Jiang is likely to urge Mr. Kim to further ease tensions with South Korea. The visit comes one day after North Korea unexpectedly offered to resume reconciliation and reunification talks with South Korea. The talks have been stalled since March due in large part to North Korea's anger at South Korea's staunchest ally, the United States, after Washington began a review of its policy toward Pyongyang.
North Korean media said the country "prays" that the Chinese leader's visit will bring "a big result."
After President Jiang and Kim Jong-Il met in May 2000, North and South Korea held their first-ever summit a month later. The summit produced a noticeable improvement in relations, which included several joint projects, exchange visits and promises to work toward reunification.