A senior North Korean diplomat arrived in China on Tuesday for talks following Beijing’s ban on coal imports from the hermit nation and the killing of the half-brother of the North’s leader Kim Jong-un. But mainland analysts cautioned that the visit alone could not lead to a diplomatic breakthrough over Pyongyang’s missile programme, and that the involvement of the United States was key to finding a solution. North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Ri Kil-song is due to meet a number of senior Chinese officials during his five-day visit, including Foreign Minister Wang Yi, his deputy Liu Zhenmin and Kong Xuanyou, an assistant foreign minister, according to Beijing. Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the agenda included bilateral relations as well as “international issues of mutual concern”. Igor Morgulov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, was also in Beijing for talks with China over the North Korean issue, Geng said. Ri’s visit is the most significant contact between the two nations since June, when Ri Su-yong, a member of North Korea’s ruling party Politburo and the country’s top diplomat, visited Beijing. China suspended coal imports from North Korea last month as part of wider global sanctions following Pyongyang’s latest ballistic missile test. Without directly naming China, the North’s state media characterised the move by a “neighbour” as showing it was “dancing to the US tune”. China is Pyongyang’s main protector but the killing of Kim Jong-nam at a Kuala Lumpur airport last month has added to tensions. Malaysia has linked the murder to ministries in North Korea and refused to release Kim’s body until DNA samples for identification are submitted. A high-level delegation from Pyongyang arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday to seek the retrieval of the body, the Associated Press reported. Kim lived under Chinese protection in Macau and Beijing. Cui Zhiying, director of the Korean Peninsula Research Centre at Tongji University, said the visit by Ri Kil-song showed the two sides had managed to maintain communication. But Lu Chao, director of the Border Studies Institute at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, said the visit alone was not enough to make a breakthrough. “[Ri’s visit] only proves that the two countries have broken the ice after almost nine months’ halt in communication,” Lu said. Seoul has responded to the North’s missile tests by agreeing to host a US-backed anti-missile system that Beijing labels a threat to its own security. In an online article, People’s Daily warned the deploymentcould push ties between China and South Korea to a “pre-severing” stage. Lu said China should help facilitate a meeting between the US and North Korea as soon as possible. “The core reason for North Korea’s nuclear development is due to its tension with the US. So it is most essential for the two countries to interact before any progress can be made,” he said.