China has struck an agreement with North Korea for collaborating on economic zones, a sign that the hermit nation may be considering reforms, Financial Times reported. China’s Ministry of Commerce said that cooperation had “entered the stage of substantial development” on Tuesday, after concluding talks with Chang Sung-taek, uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jung-eun and a senior political official. The two countries also signed agreements on agriculture. Beijing provides economic and military assistance to North Korea under a friendship treaty signed in 1961. China is also a key ally to North Korea in six-party talks to end its nuclear program, with other parties such as the US, South Korea and Japan taking a more hard-line stances. The Chinese government seeks to maintain stability on the Korean peninsula partly to ensure the US does not establish a military presence there, should the government collapse.