Chinese President Xi Jinping headed to North Korea on Thursday. His two-day state visit is expected to reinforce ties between the Pyongyang government and its principle trading partner - while also sending a message to a shared rival, the United States.
President Xi's visit marks the first trip by a Chinese leader to North Korea, China's isolated neighbor, in 14 years.
The summit between leaders of a global economic power and a country with the 134th-ranked economy is shaping up as a shared pursuit of negotiating leverage with the U.S.
It comes as China finds itself in a trade war over President Trump imposing $200 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods while threatening another $300 billion in tariffs. Simultaneously, talks between the United States and North Korea over denuclearization have broken down, after a second summit ended without a deal.
A Chinese scholar specializing in North Korea says the talks can help China on two global fronts because “President Xi’s visit highlights the crucial role that China plays in resolving the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue...given the lack of trust between North Korea and the U.S. right now.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has resisted efforts by the United States and South Korea to restart talks aimed at dismantling the North's nuclear arsenal.
Xi will meet Trump next week at the G-20 summit in Japan. He can potentially arrive with enhanced clout if he brings positive news on North Korea.
Kim Jong Un needs economic relief for his country. And China has been North Korea's lifeline.
Chinese trade with North Korea rose from less than $488 million in 2000 to $5.4 billion by 2015. Of North Korea's $1.7 billion in export goods, nearly $1.6 billion are bought in China.
Additional reporting from Newsy affiliate CNN.