North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has sent a senior military official as a special envoy to China, at a time of strained relations between the two traditional allies.
The official Korean Central News Agency said Choe Ryong Hae, the director of the General Political Bureau of the North Korean army, left Pyongyang for China Wednesday along with a government delegation. No details about the purpose of the trip were given.
It is believed to be one of the highest-level delegations North Korea has sent to Beijing since Mr. Kim took over leadership of the country following the death of his father in late 2011.
China has long been North Korea's main ally and primary economic lifeline. But there are signs that the new leadership in Beijing is growing impatient with the North.
The brief KCNA report detailing Choe's visit also indicated that North Korea has again reshuffled the top ranks of its military. The report named Kim Kyok Sik, a hawkish general, as the North's new military chief.
Kim Kyok Sik is thought to have had a role in two attacks that left 50 South Koreans dead in 2010. He previously served as military chief from 2007 until 2009. He served as defense minister since last October before being replaced last week.
KCNA said the hardline general saw off the North Korean delegation at the Pyongyang airport Wednesday along with other high-level officials, including the Chinese ambassador to the North.
Some analysts say the North Korean trip to China may be an attempt to mend relations that have been complicated by Beijing's growing frustration with Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.
The state-run Bank of China recently halted business with North Korea's main foreign exchange bank. The move, which was welcomed in Washington, was seen by many as a sign Beijing is willing to comply more rigidly with U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang's nuclear program.
China-North Korea ties also were challenged this month when unidentified North Koreans seized 16 Chinese fishermen and demanded a ransom. Beijing has demanded an investigation of the incident. The fishermen were released safely on Tuesday.
Japan said Wednesday it is considering direct talks with North Korea regarding on the decades-old issue of Pyongyang's abduction of Japanese nationals.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that Japan is "exploring every possibility," including the resumption of talks, to resolve the abduction issue.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who unexpectedly sent a special envoy to North Korea last week, also has promised to pursue talks with the North.