Xi Jinping will make the first trip to North Korea by a Chinese president in 14 years this week, state media said on Monday, as Beijing moves closer to Pyongyang amid tensions with the United States.
Mainland broadcaster CCTV reported that Xi will visit Pyongyang on Thursday and Friday at the invitation of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The timing is likely to raise eyebrows at the White House as it comes one week before the G20 summit in Japan, where US President Donald Trump expects to meet with Xi to discuss their protracted trade war.
Analysts say Xi could now use North Korea as leverage in talks with Trump.
Less than an hour after the trip's announcement, a "suspected explosion" caused a small, 1.3-magnitude earthquake in northeast China, near the border of North Korea.
North Korea's last nuclear test, a massive blast in September 2017, caused a much larger, 6.3-magnitude earthquake that was felt across the border, but the epicentre of Monday's temblor was more than 200 kilometres from the Punggye-ri nuclear site.
China and North Korea have worked to improve relations in the past year after they deteriorated as Beijing backed a series of UN sanctions against its Cold War-era ally over its nuclear activities.
The North's leader Kim Jong Un has travelled to China -- his country's sole major ally -- four times in the past year to meet Xi.
But Xi had yet to reciprocate until now. It will be the first trip there by a Chinese president since Hu Jintao went in 2005.
"China-DPRK relations have opened a new chapter," CCTV said, adding that Xi and Kim have reached a "series of important consensus" in past meetings.
Xi and Kim will "push for new progress" in a political resolution of the Korean peninsula issue, according to CCTV, which cited an unnamed official.
With Beijing and Washington at loggerheads over trade, China is keen to remind Trump of its influence in Pyongyang, with whom his nuclear negotiations -- a point of pride for the US president, who faces an election next year -- are also at a deadlock.
"The signal would be that China remains a critical stakeholder," said Jingdong Yuan, a professor specialising in Asia-Pacific security and Chinese foreign policy at the University of Sydney.
"You cannot ignore China and China can play a very important role," he told AFP. Xi could thus use the trip as a "bargaining chip" in the US-China trade war, he added.
According to an informed source in Pyongyang, Beijing was keen to arrange a visit to North Korea ahead of any encounter between Xi and Trump at the G20 summit -- with logistics finalised only last month. (AFP)