Last week's meeting between President Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un, the top leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, indicates China is playing an essential role in the settlement of the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula, according to several U.S. analysts.
Kim paid an unofficial visit to China from March 25 to Wednesday, during which he met with Xi in Beijing.
"China's role is essential," said Jon Taylor, professor of political science at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. The visit to Beijing and the Xi-Kim meeting has "reinforced China's role as a central actor in managing security issues in Northeast Asia in general and the Korean Peninsula in particular", he said.
During their Beijing meeting, Xi said China will continue to play a constructive role on the issue and work with all parties, including the DPRK, toward a thaw of the situation on the peninsula.
Kim said it is his country's "consistent stand to be committed to denuclearization on the peninsula" and the DPRK is willing to have a dialogue with the United States and hold a summit between the two countries.
The Xi-Kim meeting is expected to be followed by a flurry of other talks, such as the late-April summit between Kim and President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea. These are "quite relevant" to the summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim in May, according to Taylor, who writes about China.
"The willingness of the principal parties to engage in diplomacy and dialogue on the Korean Peninsula issue is a hopeful sign," Taylor told China Daily.
"If the Moon-Kim summit goes as well as the Xi-Kim summit, the greater the likelihood that Trump and Kim will be able to ratchet down nuclear tensions and begin to address the challenge of developing a meaningful path to peace."
Yun Sun, co-director of the East Asia Program at the Stimson Center, a think tank in Washington, said, "The significance (of the Xi-Kim meeting) is that China shows the world that China is indispensable in the process and cannot be excluded."
Sun said China has cooperated with Trump on sanctions and placing the maximum pressure on Kim, which has brought Pyongyang back to the negotiation table.
"Looking into the future, for any deal with North Korea to sustain, China will have to be included and most likely as a guarantor," she said in an email.
The more "consensus and amity" Pyongyang and Seoul can build, between themselves and toward denuclearization, the more foundation it will pave for the engagement between Trump and Kim, she said.
The Beijing meeting showed that whatever may come of the upcoming inter-Korean and North Korea-U.S. summits, China will not be a peripheral, Ankit Panda, a senior editor with The Diplomat who covers Asia-Pacific security and the DPRK's ballistic-missile and nuclear-weapons programs, said in a Wednesday post.
"As this trip represents Kim's first known sojourn outside of the country to meet a foreign head of state, it suggests that the North Korean leader may not be averse to traveling outside of the country (perhaps even overseas) for a summit with the U.S. president," said Victor Cha, Senior Adviser and Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in a commentary co-authored with Sue Mi Terry, a senior fellow at the CSIS.