North Korea's defense minister is leading a military delegation to China. There is no public agenda for the trip but meetings are expected to focus on North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Few details are available about the visit but it highlights China's military ties with North Korea, its communist neighbor and ally. The North's defense minister, Army Vice Marshal Kim -Il Choi, is leading the delegation from Pyongyang.
North Korea is one of the world's most isolated countries and its nuclear weapons programs are at the heart of a political standoff with the United States.
Political scientist Woo Seong-ji is with South Korea's Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. He says China will certainly discuss the nuclear issue but the real point of the visit is to publicly reaffirm their relationship. China is North Korea's chief source of imported fuel and food.
"They are cooperating with each other very closely and their cooperation recently has rather expanded," said Mr. Woo.
Three months ago, North Korea's reclusive leader Kim Jung Il visited China for the first time since 2001. And in late June the two countries signed a security agreement regarding their 1,400 kilometer border.
Over the past year, China has held three rounds of international talks to help settle the nuclear controversy. So far, little progress has been made.
The United States and other countries are pushing North Korea to give up efforts to build nuclear weapons. Pyongyang refuses to do so without first getting security guarantees and aid from Washington.
China and North Korea have long had close ties, and Chinese fought alongside the North during the Korean War in the 1950s.
But Mr. Woo says their current relationship has more to do with China's economic expansion than any sense of political solidarity.
"China is currently pursuing economic development program very vigorously and for it to succeed, China needs international stability surrounding its borders," added Mr. Woo.
So, he says, concerns of an economic meltdown in North Korea are fueling China's increased levels of support. The North's economy has been slowly crumbling for more than a decade, and the country went through a famine several years ago.
Similarly, the nuclear weapons controversy threatens to upend regional stability and slow China's economic growth.