But it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Beijing, coming at a moment of geopolitical tensions over a sharper China.
Beijing doesn’t want to be forced onto one side or the other. Xi personally courted Putin, so it would be embarrassing to have a public break from Russia at this point – doing so would indicate that Xi perhaps made a poor decision.
It is why Beijing has, more than a year into the war, shied away from denouncing Putin’s invasion, and refuses to publicly take a side.
But Xi also ultimately sees this as a pivotal moment for the rise of China, and communist states like it, hence he has to find a way to ride the wave.
From Beijing’s perspective, the sooner the war ends, the better. That outlook is likely a driving motivation behind its attempts to cast itself as a peace broker.
But most of all, greater cooperation between North Korea and Russia could throw off the delicate balance in the Indo-Pacific, a region where China has for so long pulled the puppet strings.
Nothing can quite knock China from its dominant position, but anything that might be potentially destabilising – even by a fraction – will upset Beijing at a moment when what it wants is a smoother operating environment.
For North Korea, deal or not, a visit to Russia gives it bragging rights – a way to show that it remains relevant, and that it can even be of assistance to large nations.