China is often seen as North Korea's "Big brother", and the regime's leader Kim Jong-un has been visiting Beijing at crucial times.
Kim's three visits with Chinese President Xi Jinping last year came once before his first summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, once before his June summit in Singapore with U.S. President Donald Trump, and once right after that Singapore summit.
Thus watchers are saying that the second Pyeongyang-Washington summit, expected to be held in January or February, could really be imminent.
A senior South Korean official at the foreign ministry told reporters on Tuesday that it is natural to think like this if comparing the visit to previous cases.
The reason for the visit? Park Won-gon, Dean of International Affairs at Handong Global University says Kim Jong-un may have visited China to discuss his strategy for negotiations with the U.S., and possibly get reassurances of Beijing's support should the talks not go well.
At the same time, the expert said the visit could be a means to pressure the U.S.
"Kim in his New Year's speech last week, said that the North may come up with new measures if the U.S. does not take corresponding measures. These "new measures" were not elaborated, but it could mean the North will side with China and engage in economic cooperation, regardless of its talks with Washington."
While Kim's visit may put some symbolic pressure on the U.S., Park does not think it will have a negative impact on Pyeongyang's talks with Washington.
"Beijing's advice this time will be very much different from the advice before the first summit last year, where China allegedly pushed North Korea for a harder stance on its talks with the U.S. So whenever talks didn't go well, President Trump blamed China for Kim's change in attitude. So, with the current hard-earned truce in their trade war with Washington, Beijing is not likely to risk it. I think it will in fact urge North Korea to take a bolder denuclearization step."
The expert said the North's likely cards it could put on the table are inspections and verifications of the dismantlement of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site and the Dongchang-ri missile test site.
But Park added that more signs, including high-level or a working-level talks, will be needed to confidently say that a Kim-Trump summit is imminent.
He said as much as the Singapore Joint Declaration was not deemed a success in the U.S., the Trump administration will want solid denuclearization measures promised before holding the summit.
Lee Ji-won, Arirang News.