Photo/IllutrationIn this June 19, 2018, file photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, poses with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for a photo during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (Xinhua via AP, File)

BEIJING--Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit North Korea for two days from Thursday, state media in both countries reported on Monday, making him the first Chinese leader to visit in 14 years.

Neighboring China is reclusive North Korea's only major ally, and the visit comes amid renewed tensions between the United States and North Korea over efforts to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.

"Both sides will exchange views on the (Korean) peninsula situation, and push for new progress in the political resolution of the peninsula issue," China's official broadcaster CCTV said in a lengthy report that led the evening news.

The visit coincides with the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and North Korea, CCTV said.

The invitation was made by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, state media in both countries said.

Since a failed summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim in Hanoi earlier this year, Pyongyang has resumed some weapons tests and warned of "truly undesired consequences" if the United States is not more flexible.

Xi's visit kicks off a flurry of high-level diplomatic activity around the Korean Peninsula, with Trump set to visit ally South Korea after the G-20 summit this month in Osaka, Japan.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in's office said he and Xi would hold talks during the G-20.

The visit also comes against a backdrop of mounting acrimony between Beijing and Washington over trade and other issues.

Chinese political scholar Zhang Lifan said the aim of Xi's trip is likely not to make any breakthroughs, but rather to remind other countries of China's unique position.

Zhang said Beijing may be seeking to gain leverage ahead of a G-20 summit in Japan later this month and reassert itself as a global player amid growing concerns over its economy.

"North Korea is a card for China to play," Zhang said. "China may want to show off its relationship with North Korea and demonstrate its importance to U.S.-North Korean relations."

VISIT LONG EXPECTED

Kim has made four visits to China since March 2018, CCTV reported. The first, conducted largely in secret, was his first known trip abroad since he assumed power in June 2011.

Diplomats had long expected Xi to visit Pyongyang; one Western diplomat in Beijing said it was likely that the Chinese leader had a standing invitation, and had chosen to take it up with the G-20 summit approaching: "It's Xi showing Trump that China still has an important card to play--North Korea."

Kim and Trump held a summit last year in Singapore and one in Hanoi this year, but hopes for rapid progress towards denuclearization have faded.

The United States demands that North Korea make verifiable progress toward giving up its nuclear weapons before any sanctions are eased, while North Korea says the United States has done nothing to reward the steps it has already taken.

Kim has met with Moon three times, most recently in September 2018. Spokeswoman Ko Min-jung said the presidential Blue House expected Xi's trip to contribute to "an early restart of negotiations aimed at achieving complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and to establishing lasting peace."

North Korea and U.S-supported South Korea have been locked in an armed standoff since their 1950-53 war ended in a truce, but not a peace treaty.

The last Chinese leader to visit North Korea was Hu Jintao in 2005.