The last time a Chinese leader visited North Korea was in July 2013 when Vice President Li Yuanchao tried to patch up relations, and pressed North Korea, after its third nuclear test in February 2013, to slow down its nuclear weapons program. Mr. Li failed in that quest.
After the vice president’s visit, relations plummeted further, entering the icebox in December 2013 when China’s main conduit within the North Korean government, Jang Song-thaek, a senior official and the uncle of Kim Jong-un, was executed in a purge.
In July, President Xi Jinping snubbed North Korea, visiting South Korea instead. Mr. Xi has yet to visit North Korea, and is said to have been infuriated by a third nuclear test by North Korea in February 2013, soon after Kim Jong-un came to power.
A heightened debate in China is spurred in part by fears that North Korea could collapse even though economic conditions in the agriculture sector seemed ready to improve, several Chinese analysts said. Indeed, one of the tricky balancing acts for China is how much to curtail fuel supplies and other financial support without provoking a collapse that could send refugees into China’s northeastern provinces, and result in a unified Korean Peninsula loyal to the United States.
“If China presses D.P.R.K. too hard it could collapse,” Zheng Jiyong, director of the Center for Korean Studies at Fudan University, said. “But if it doesn’t press hard enough it will become uncontrolled and do more things like nuclear tests.”