President Xi Jinping’s surprise meeting with a top North Korean official reflects Beijing’s realpolitik as it tries to maintain its influence over the reclusive regime, despite their deep divide over the nuclear issue, according to analysts. Xi, who is also the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, on Wednesday met Ri Su-yong, who was North Korea’s foreign minister until he was named vice-chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party in May. Top North Korean official makes surprise visit to China, with talks expected to focus on economic ties Ri is the first North Korean figure Xi has met in the three years since he came to office. Xi has not met the North’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un, who came to power following the death of his father in December 2011. Relations between the traditional allies have been rocky for several years as Beijing, angered by North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, joined the rest of the United Nations Security Council in backing tough sanctions against Pyongyang. Also on Wednesday, Premier Li Keqiang said Beijing would fulfil its duty as a responsible power and strictly implement all related UN resolutions. China has likely concluded that realpolitik demands periodic shows of diplomatic support for North Korea Benjamin Herscovitch, analyst “China has likely concluded that realpolitik demands periodic shows of diplomatic support for North Korea,” Benjamin Herscovitch, a research manager at China Policy, a Beijing-based policy analysis and advisory firm, said. Lee Seong-hyon, a research fellow at the Sejong Institute, a Seoul-based think tank, said China’s ultimate concern was the United States, not North Korea. “From China’s point of view, if its rise will inevitably clash with the US, why then should Beijing help Washington and Seoul over Pyongyang when doing so would go against its own geopolitical interests?” Lee wrote in a note on Facebook. Herscovitch said Beijing’s latest high-profile diplomacy was “clearly signalling to the international community that China would not tolerate efforts to unseat the Kim regime”. Beijing saw the Kim regime as “an essential bulwark against a reunified and a US-aligned expanded South Korea, and public shows of Chinese support for the Kim regime are an essential bulwark against possible South Korean/US efforts to destabilise the Kim regime”, Herscovitch said. China unlikely to come to North Korea’s defence if tensions escalate over nuclear weapons tests, say Chinese experts Tong Zhao, an associate in Carnegie’s Nuclear Policy Programme based at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy, said separating the nuclear issue from other aspects of the China-North Korean relationship and seeking to maintain normal ties with Pyongyang on non-nuclear related issues served China’s interests. Xi’s meeting with Ri came days before the annual US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue at which both sides will discuss North Korea and other contentious issues. But Jingdong Yuan, a regional security expert at the University of Sydney’s Centre for International Security Studies, said China did not have much to gain in playing the North Korean card in its dealings with the US. At Wednesday’s meeting, Ri told Xi that his nation would continue to develop its nuclear programme. Yuan said Ri’s remarks were surprising but logical as Pyongyang wanted to pre-empt China’s attempts to promote denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.