A top diplomatic aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un arrived in Beijing on Tuesday, even as the chief US negotiator was in town, suggesting that China is playing a role in a new phase of denuclearisation talks between the two nations after the collapse of the second meeting between Kim and US President Donald Trump last month. Japanese and South Korean news media reported that Ri Su-yong, the former North Korean foreign minister who is vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, was greeted Tuesday morning at Beijing Capital International Airport by Ji Jae-ryong, North Korea’s ambassador to China, as well as Chinese Communist Party officials. Ri’s visit comes as Stephen Beigun, the US special representative for North Korea, was also in Beijing. Officially, Beigun, who arrived on Sunday, is on a mission to continue coordination with China on North Korea policies, according to the US embassy. No details about the schedules of the two diplomats were disclosed. Still, speculation was rife that Washington and Pyongyang are re-engaging after negotiations broke off in late February between Trump and Kim at their summit meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam. Boo Seung-chan, adjunct professor at the Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies in Seoul, said that the trips by Beigun and Ri underscored Washington and Pyongyang’s determination to reset their dialogue, as well as China’s possible role as a mediator. “Washington may have realised that the risks and limitations the current top-down negotiation model involves after the Hanoi summit collapsed,” Boo said. Beigun made his way to Beijing just days after Trump declared on Twitter last week that he had rolled back new sanctions on North Korea his own Treasury Department had just announced – an apparent gesture of goodwill toward Pyongyang. US envoy to North Korea arrives in Beijing to discuss ‘coordination on policies’ In response, on Monday Pyongyang sent its officials back to the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong – a few days after it withdrew them because, North Korea said, the South was being too “hesitant” in lifting sanctions or engaging in economic projects. Kim is under growing pressure to build up the North Korean economy since he declared it was his main priority last April. Without the lifting of sanctions, those ambitions cannot be realised. The economy has been Trump’s biggest selling point in the denuclearisations talks with Kim. During their first summit – in June, in Singapore – Trump even showed Kim a short film imagining what a robust, modernised North Korean economy might look like. Even so, last month, the two leaders’ follow-up summit foundered spectacularly when no progress could be made on a shared understanding of what a denuclearised Korean peninsula would entail. North Korean officials return to inter-Korean liaison office “The two sides have revealed their vast differences in their understanding of the denuclearisation, and the US may have felt China may play a bigger role in narrowing that gap,” Boo said, noting that the US has likely requested China’s active mediation. “Like it or not, due to the Hanoi summit failure, the gridlock situation is likely to continue for a while,” he added. “China would be an attractive diplomatic card for Washington to play in breaking the stalemate.” The US has previously been reluctant to acknowledge a role for China, if only because it doesn’t want to give Beijing leverage in its own current talks with Washington over trade issues. Additionally, the US has historically sought to diminish China’s geopolitical influence over North Korea and East Asia generally. Still, during a news conference in Hanoi, Trump acknowledged that China could be “more helpful” in the denuclearisation process, suggesting an opening for China. Kim Jong-un ‘was shocked’ by new US list at Hanoi summit Zhang Baohui, director of the Centre for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, said that the gridlock may indicate “China’s rising role” in the next chapter of US-North Korea talks. “Trump and Kim’s failure to move the process forward may have revived China’s role in the process.” And, Zhang said, China has reasons of its own to smooth relations between the two countries. “The failure of the Hanoi meeting should concern Beijing, as it may return the Korean peninsula to the old pattern of conflicts and instability,” he noted. As a result, he added, “China has stepped up its efforts to play the role of a bridge between North Korea and the US in facilitating the dialogue”.