BEIJING — China's foreign minister congratulated North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Thursday on his moves to reduce tensions with South Korea, China said. Their meeting in Pyongyang underscored warming ties and Beijing's desire to remain a key player in the Korean Peninsula peace process.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi also told Kim that Beijing backs North Korea's shift of focus to economic growth, along with its efforts to resolve its "legitimate security concerns" while taking steps to denuclearize, China's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
China "supports and congratulates" Kim's summit meeting last week with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the statement they issued, it quoted Wang as saying.
"The meeting has brought a favorable opportunity for a political resolution of the (Korean) Peninsula issue," Wang said.
Relations between China and North Korea have undergone a vast outward improvement following Kim's recent visit to Beijing. China, North Korea's biggest trading partner, has joined United Nations sanctions against the North that have cut trade between them by around 90 percent.
Kim's March trip was his first to his country's only major ally since taking power six years ago, kicking off a flurry of diplomacy. A meeting between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump is expected in the coming weeks, although arrangements have yet to be announced.
For China, the recent meetings offer an opportunity for it to reinforce its importance in the region and ensure that its concerns and interests are respected in any future negotiations.
Wang's visit, which was to end Thursday, was aimed at exploring ways China can contribute to the easing of tensions, along with implementing agreements reached in Beijing by Kim and Chinese President Xi Jinping, said Da Zhigang, a researcher at the Heilongjiang Academy of Social Sciences in northeastern China.
Denuclearization efforts should "do no harm by taking into consideration the interests of all parties, including China," Da said.
"If the promotion of denuclearization turns the regional situation chaotic, then that is not what people want to see," he said.
China sent troops to fight on North Korea's side in the 1950-53 Korean War, but relations have suffered in recent years over the North's reluctance to implement Chinese-style economic reforms and Kim's continued pursuit of nuclear bombs and the missiles to deliver them.
China has long called for a return to six-nation talks on the North's nuclear program, and welcomed the Koreas' summit as a way to reduce tensions. Analysts say China's sanctions may have helped prompt North Korea's diplomatic initiatives, although the secretive regime in Pyongyang has not commented publicly on the issue.
China says sanctions imposed over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs are intended to further diplomacy rather than punish the North. Beijing opposes any measures that could topple North Korea's government and possibly lead to a tide of refugees crossing its border and the stationing of U.S. and South Korean troops in the North.
Wang also told Kim that China supports efforts to bring a formal end to the Korean War, which was halted with an armistice, not a peace treaty, and North Korea's "shift of strategic focus to building its economy."
The ministry quoted Kim as hailing relations with China and stating that denuclearization was North Korea's "firm position."
Wang earlier told North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho that China is willing to work with the North to boost "practical economic and trade cooperation" and fully supports it in "concentrating its strength to carry out economic construction," the ministry said.