China's special envoy extended to President-elect Park Geun-hye a personal invitation from Communist Party chief Xi Jinping for her to visit Beijing, Thursday.
The envoy, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun met with Park after arriving in Seoul the previous day for a three-day visit.
"We know Zhang Zhijun carries a personal letter from President Hu Jintao and the (Communist Party) Secretary General Xi Jinping," said Zheng Hao, an in-house political analyst and commentator with Hong Kong's Phoenix TV.
Zhang's role was to check in with Park before she takes office later next month, strengthening communication on regional affairs, including North Korea, the analyst said.
China is also eager to know whether the new administration wants to push for the quick deployment of long-range ballistic missiles with a range of 800km. These will be able to hit any target in North Korea, but are not considered a threat to China.
Beijing is reportedly concerned about Pyongyang's unpredictable reaction to the missile deployment. It is also uneasy about the missile range itself, which will enable them to reach some of China's eastern coastal areas, a Chinese government official told The Korea Times.
Before his courtesy call on Park, Zhang met Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and discussed how to enhance ties as both countries undergo political transitions. Kim highlighted "significant progress" in relations in recent years and called for more exchanges between the two.
Analysts expect that Park will attempt to improve relations with China following the Lee Myung-bak administration's Washington-focused approach. While the neighbors have consolidated economic relations, analysts say the political relationship lags behind, with issues such as China's treatment of South Korean detainees and repatriation of North Korean defectors remaining as stumbling blocks.
The visit will give Park's team a chance to make contact with the new generation of Chinese leaders led by Xi.
Zhang is the first senior official to meet Park since she was elected on Dec. 19. Born in 1953, he is seen as a key official who will increasingly play an important role in Beijing's ties with both Koreas. Currently, he is in charge of the annual strategic dialogue Beijing has with Seoul.
Unlike Yang Jiechi, the current Chinese foreign minister, whose primary experience and expertise is America, Zhang is more "personally interested in North Korea," a diplomatic source in Beijing old The Korea Times.
Zhang has served almost his entire career in the Communist Party's International Liaison Department, a major organization that manages China's relations with North Korea, before he was made vice foreign minister in 2009.
Zhang was the Chinese official who summoned the North Korean ambassador to China, Ji Jae-ryong, in March last year, to register China's "concern" over Pyongyang's announcement of a planned satellite launch.
Zhang is also seen as a strong candidate to become the next foreign minister under Xi Jinping. China has seven vice foreign ministers. Among them, Zhang outranks the others. The official People's Daily newspaper addresses him as "executive vice foreign minister."
Observers were watching to see whether the talks would touch on North Korea's rocket launch on Dec. 12, for which the Lee government is currently pushing for sanctions at the U.N. Security Council.
Park has promised a more moderate line on the North and says she is open to dialogue with the Kim Jong-un regime. Efforts by Seoul to engage the North economically would be bolstered by communication with Beijing, Pyongyang's top trading partner.