China, North Korea sign agreements on joint economic zones, investment deals

China and North Korea today agreed to pursue work on their planned landmark economic zones and signed fresh trade deals in a strong sign of Beijing's continued support for Pyongyang, reported BBC News

The news comes during a visit to China by the uncle of the new North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to the BBC.

Kim took over power following his father's death last December and has been closely watched for any sign of change in his father's policies, particularly the nation's controversial nuclear program, which has prompted harsh economics sanctions from the West.

More from GlobalPost: North Korea: Nuclear test possible this month, study says

China is North Korea's major economic mainstay, and the two countries also signed a raft of electrical and agricultural agreements, according to the BBC. They also established new committees meant to lay the foundation for deeper economic cooperation, China's commerce ministry announced, according to Agence-France Press

China's Vice Commerce Minister, Chen Jian, today published a strongly worded article of support for the new economic zones being established by North Korea and China, which could herald a breakthrough for the isolated communist country in terms of international trade, according to Reuters.

"We will support big Chinese companies who are willing to invest in North Korea to broaden the economic and trade cooperation with North Korea, to push the two sides to upgrade two-way trade and investment structures and study the feasibility of cooperation on big projects," Reuters cited Chen as writing in the Communist party paper People's Daily.

Also today, Japan announced it will hold talks with North Korea for the first time in four years, the BBC reported. The talks are expected to take place later this month.