PYONGYANG, North Korea - After months of ignoring Chinese warnings to give up nuclear weapons, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sent a high-level confidant to Beijing on Wednesday in a possible effort to mend strained ties with his country's most important ally and a sign that he may be giving diplomacy a chance.
The trip by Vice Marshal Choe Ryong Hae, a senior Workers' Party official and the military's top political officer, is taking place as tensions ease somewhat on the Korean Peninsula after near-daily vows from Pyongyang to attack Washington and Seoul in March and April.
The United States, Japan, South Korea, China, and Russia have been busy discussing how best to engage with the North Koreans. Japan sent an envoy to North Korea last week to discuss decades-old abductions of its citizens, a move that has drawn concern among allies of Tokyo who want denuclearization to be the focus of talks.
Choe's visit is the first this year by a top North Korean official to China, which is under pressure from the United States and others to rein in its belligerent neighbor. It's also the first since a change of leadership in Beijing, whose new leaders have demonstrated a willingness to work with Washington to harry Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons programs even as stability in North Korea remains the Chinese government's priority.
North Korea also revealed Wednesday that a former defense minister, Kim Kyok Sik, was promoted to chief of the Korean People's Army in the latest in a series of high-level military reshuffles as Kim Jong Un elevates a new generation of military leaders.
Foreign analysts see Choe's trip as part fence-mending mission, part appeal for aid.
The last high-level North Korea-China meeting took place when Chinese Communist Party chief Xi Jinping sent a Politburo member to Pyongyang in November. Weeks later, North Korea launched a long-range rocket, followed by an underground nuclear test in February.