SEOUL – North Korea, facing tougher U.N. sanctions for its nuclear test in May and a series of missile launches, said on Tuesday it had sent a Foreign Ministry delegation to China, its biggest benefactor and only major ally.

China's Foreign Ministry said the delegation, led by North Korea's Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Yong-il, was coming as part of regular exchanges to mark the 60th anniversary of the two countries formally establishing diplomatic ties.

The two sides will exchange views on bilateral ties and issues of common interest, China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a media briefing.

The reclusive North has made a series of conciliatory gestures in the past month that analysts see as an attempt to re-engage with the outside world.

The latest sanctions have focused on North Korea's weapons trade, one of its few major sources of foreign currency.

Diplomats said last week that a cargo of North Korean weapons had been seized on its way to Iran. At least three North Korean vessels have been monitored in foreign waters on suspicion of carrying banned cargoes.

There is also speculation that this year's harvest may be poor, adding to pressure on North Korea's hard-line leaders to seek help for their broken economy.

Late last month, senior Chinese nuclear envoy Wu Dawei visited Pyongyang.

China, Pyongyang's biggest source of aid, has been pressing the North to return to regional talks about its program to build nuclear weapons.

Pyongyang walked away from those talks late last year and has since said repeatedly they are no longer useful.

(Reporting by Yoo Choonsik and Jon Herskovitz in SEOUL and Sally Huang and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Jonathan Thatcher and Paul Tait)