A top North Korean official made an unexpected visit to Beijing on Tuesday in an apparent attempt by Pyongyang to mend frayed ties with its powerful neighbour, Japanese media reported. Latest North Korean missile test probably failed, says South China is North Korea’s largest trading partner and has been its key diplomatic protector for decades, but ties have been strained recently by Pyongyang’s internationally condemned nuclear test programme, with Beijing supporting UN sanctions against its isolated neighbour. Ri Su-yong, vice-chairman of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, arrived in Beijing to brief Chinese officials on a once-in-a-generation party congress held earlier this month, Kyodo news reported. The lack of any official Chinese representation at the congress – which cemented leader Kim Jong-un’s grip on power – was viewed as a sign of friction between the two nations. During a regular press conference, China’s Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman Hua Chunying declined to confirm Ri’s visit, but said North Korea remained an important neighbour, and China hoped to develop “normal and friendly relations” with the country. The visit came as South Korea said on Tuesday that the North had failed in what was believed to be an attempted launch of a powerful new medium-range missile. China, US and others should join hands to make plans in case North Korea collapses: former US commander United Nations’ resolutions ban North Korea from any use of ballistic missile technology, though it regularly fires short-range missiles into the sea off its east coast. China’s official Xinhua news agency said Ri, a former foreign minister, would visit for three days as part of a delegation. ‘It’s hard to predict the future’: China, North Korea talks now only at work level, says former top Chinese diplomat Experts said Ri’s visit came as no surprise as the North has been eager to improve ties with China, especially in economic areas. “Economic development has been North Korea’s priority as signalled in the recent Workers’ Party congress … North Korea is likely to discuss increasing economic cooperation with China,” said Li Dunqiu, an expert in Korean studies at Zhejiang University. The visit showed Pyongyang still felt relations with China were important, which could open up possibilities for negotiations over denuclearisation, Li said. “But we should not overestimate China’s influence over North Korea,” he said, adding the US remained an important player in the issue. Better ties with Beijing would depend on whether North Korea was willing to step back from its nuclear development, said Lu Chao, director of the Border Studies Institute at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences in the northeastern province that borders North Korea. Ri is the highest-ranking North Korean official to visit China since last year when Kim Jong-un’s close aide Choe Ryong-hae attended a military parade in Beijing to mark the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in the second world war, Kyodo reported.