THE highest-level Chinese envoy to North Korea in two years has arrived in Pyongyang to try to improve soured relations between the two nations.

Tensions have risen over Beijing’s tightening of sanctions and support for US President Donald Trump’s calls for more pressure on the North to abandon its nuclear weapons programme.

Song Tao’s official mission is to brief North Korean officials on the outcome of China’s ruling Communist Party congress held last month.

He is visiting as President Xi Jinping’s special envoy but no other details about his itinerary or if he will meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are available.

The visit is seen as an effort by Xi to explore a new approach in relations and probably also reflects Xi’s desire to head off further pressure from Washington.

China’s relations with North Korea have deteriorated under Kim, who has ignored Beijing’s calls to end the North’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests and return to disarmament talks.

North Korea staged its sixth nuclear test on September 3, detonating what it said was a hydrogen bomb, and most recently launched a ballistic missile on September 15, firing it over the Japanese island of Hokkaido into the Pacific Ocean.

China, North Korea’s largest trading partner, says its influence with Kim’s government is often exaggerated by the US.