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Page last updated at 17:10 GMT, Tuesday, 17 June 2008 18:10 UK

China vice-president in N Korea

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (L) is greeted by senior North Korean official Yang Hyong-sop upon his arrival at Pyongyang Airport on Tuesday
Smiles at the airport, but there may be tougher talk behind the scenes

China's Vice-President Xi Jinping is in North Korea on his first visit abroad since his appointment in March.

Mr Xi said relations between the two countries were moving forward, and praised the North's leader Kim Jong-il.

But correspondents say that behind the public display of harmony, China is pushing for progress on the process of ridding North Korea of nuclear weapons.

They say sending an envoy as senior as Mr Xi suggests Beijing wants tangible results from the visit.

The vice-president is seen as a leading contender to succeed Hu Jintao as president.

Kim praised

Mr Xi was greeted by an honour guard from the Korean People's Army and a bunch of flowers as he arrived in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, reported AP news agency.

Undated photo released by the Korean Central News Agency on 28 May shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-il inspecting an army unit in an undisclosed location
It is not clear whether Mr Xi will meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-il

He praised the North's reclusive leader, saying that under Mr Kim's leadership North Korean people had made "great achievements in socialist revolution and construction", reported the state Chinese news agency Xinhua.

In subsequent meetings with Yang Hyong-sop, vice-president of the presidium of the North's Supreme People's Assembly, Mr Xi proposed strengthening cultural and economic ties between the two countries, Xinhua said.

His final proposal was to "strengthen bilateral co-ordination and co-operation in the six-party talks on the DPRK [North Korean] nuclear issue, and within the framework of the United Nations, to protect the interests of both countries".

It is not clear whether Mr Xi will meet Mr Kim.

Stalled talks

The talks - between North and South Korea, the US, China, Russia and Japan - yielded an agreement in 2005 that the North would abandon its nuclear programmes in exchange for diplomatic and economic benefits.

But they have stalled in recent months, bogged down by North Korea's apparent reluctance to declare all its nuclear activities.

On Tuesday, the US announced that Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill would go to Japan and China this week for talks aimed at kick-starting the process.

Correspondents say this high-level visit from China suggests it is also keen to get the process back on track.



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