Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has arrived in Pyongyang, on a visit expected to focus on reviving nuclear disarmament talks.
In a rare gesture, Kim Jong Il went to the airport to greet Wen – the highest ranking Chinese official to travel here in years.
The North Korean leader almost never personally greets arriving visitors.
It is a sign of how seriously Pyongyang views Beijing, which gives it economic help and diplomatic backing.
During this visit, the two leaders are to sign agreements on trade, tourism and education.
But analysts say China’s real goal will be to persuade North Korea to return to nuclear disarmament negotiations.
Pyongyang quit the talks in April to protest against United Nations criticism of its long-range rocket launch.
Pyongyang conducted a second nuclear test in May.
But it has since changed tack, holding out an olive branch to regional powers and the US, after being hit with UN sanctions.
Washington is expected to announce a trip to Pyongyang by its special representative for North Korea policy after Wen’s visit.