Media and experts in China have linked a North Korean special envoy's Beijing visit to escalating regional tensions and public anger over the recent kidnapping of fishermen.
Xinhua news agency revealed no details of Vice-Marshall Choe Ryong-hae's meeting with Wang Jiarui, head of the Communist Party's international department, except for an exchange of views on "issues of common concern regarding the Korean Peninsula".
It did not specify whether other Chinese officials would meet Mr Choe or how long he would stay.
Shi Yinhong, a security expert at Beijing's Renmin University, tells Hong Kong's South China Morning Post that Beijing appears to have "downgraded" the visit by sending Wang Jiarui, a minister-level official, to meet Mr Choe.
Prof Shi says Mr Choe's trip is "primarily aimed at repairing ties which are at their lowest ebb since the Korean war ended in 1953".
Zhu Feng, a professor at the School of International Studies of Peking University, tells Global Times that Xinhua's limited coverage of the visit shows that Beijing is "not reacting warmly" to Pyongyang's attempts to engineer a summit between Kim Jong-un and Chinese leaders in Beijing.
"A precondition for the summit would be Kim vowing to abandon the pursuit of nuclear weapons and return to the six-party talks, which he wouldn't do," Prof Zhu says.
However, Prof Zhu predicts that China will not let Mr Choe leave empty-handed and is likely to provide economic aid.
"The North's provocations backfired and have pushed China and the US closer together, resulting in more frequent high-level exchanges between the two countries. So it is trying a new way to sabotage Sino-US ties," Zhang Liangui, a North Korea expert at the Communist Party's school, tells Global Times.
Zhan Xiaohong, a Koreas expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a top government think-tank, also believes that Mr Choe's visit is aimed at "sounding out" China amid "cooler relations" and ahead of a key Sino-US summit.
In talks with Mr Choe, Wang Jiarui is likely to have conveyed a warning to North Korea not to be a "trouble-maker", Mr Zhan tells Ta Kung Pao, a Beijing-backed Hong Kong newspaper.
Global Times, however, says China should "stand firm" over North Korea's recent provocations such as nuclear tests as well as the hijacked fishing boat.
"China does not need to become agreeable because Kim Jong-un sent a special envoy, and we have even less need to use concessions to show that we treasure this opportunity. North Korea has gone rather too far this year and it has not shown due respect for China," the editorial says
"Chinese public opinion is now imbued with mistrust towards North Korea... When North Korea is too 'recalcitrant', China should be cold towards it or even impose sanctions," it stresses.
Turning to Premier Li Keqiang's two-day visit to Islamabad, The Beijing News notes that Pakistan gave an "exceptionally high standard of hospitality" to Mr Li.
Six Pakistani Air Force JF-17 fighter jets that were jointly designed by the two countries escorted his plane when it entered the country's airspace yesterday.
The Pakistani president and prime minister also made a "very rare and very special" break with diplomatic protocol by meeting Mr Li at the airport, the newspaper adds.
However, state media have taken care to emphasise how China is balancing an "all-weather" friendship with Islamabad with improved ties with India for the benefit of South Asia's stability and economic development.
"Friendly co-operation can be developed with India and Pakistan at the same time. This is in line with China's interests, but also beneficial to the entire region," comments Global Times.
"China has maintained friendly relations with both India and Pakistan. It can give better play to its coordinating and mediating role between India and Pakistan to help India and Pakistan to reduce differences, enhance mutual trust, and eliminate regional factors of instability," says Wen Wei Po, a Beijing-backed Hong Kong daily.
Chinese navy and marine surveillance ships are patrolling a reef known as Ayungin Shoal in the Philippines and Ren'ai Reef in China to stop Manila trying to "reinforce control" over disputed waters by repairing a warship stranded on the reef, Global Times quotes insiders as saying.
The newspapers dismisses the Philippine media and government's protests over the presence of Chinese vessels near the reef as a case of a "thief crying 'Stop thief''.