China fully backs North Korea's efforts to rebuild economy, says Wang Yi

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi (left) shaking hands with North Korea's Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho at the Mansudae Assembly Hall in Pyongyang on May 2, 2018.
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi (left) shaking hands with North Korea's Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho at the Mansudae Assembly Hall in Pyongyang on May 2, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS, AFP) - China will support North Korea's efforts to rebuild its economy and is willing to continue playing a positive role to seek a political resolution for the Korean peninsula, said its top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi.

In a statement late on Wednesday, China's Foreign Ministry cited Wang as offering North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho his congratulations for the successful meeting between the leaders of the North and South.

China fully supported North Korea's commitment to denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula as well as its decision to concentrate its efforts on economic development, Wang said during his two-day trip to Pyongyang.

"We hope the dialogue between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the United States will be conducted successfully and that substantial progress will be made," he said, referring to an upcoming meeting between Kim and US President Donald Trump.

China also fully supports a resolution of North Korea's "reasonable and legitimate security concerns" and gives its full support for the improvement of inter-Korea relations, Wang said.

"China is willing to strengthen communication with North Korea and continue to play a positive role in seeking a political solution to the Korean peninsula issue," he said.

In a brief statement on Thursday (May 3), the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Wang had also met Kim, but did not immediately provide any other details.

China had largely sat on the sidelines while the two Koreas improved ties, until Kim made a secretive trip to Beijing to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in late March.

It was Kim's first overseas trip since he took power in 2011 and came amid signs of a diplomatic thaw.

Ri said the talks between Xi and Kim had paved the way for the two countries to develop "friendly relations from a new starting point", Xinhua reported.

The two top diplomats met in Beijing last month, days after Kim travelled to China in late March.

Wang said in Pyongyang that the traditional China-DPRK friendship is "the shared and precious treasure of the two countries, adding that to continuously develop and pass on this friendship to future generations is a strategic choice of both countries", reported Xinhua, using the acronym for North Korea.

Wang, who arrived in Pyongyang on Wednesday, is the first Chinese foreign minister to visit the North since 2007, a lapse that highlights the rough patch in relations between the allies in recent years.

China - North Korea's sole diplomatic ally and economic benefactor - has supported a series of United Nations sanctions against the North over its nuclear and missile programmes.

The US has called for countries to continue to put financial and diplomatic pressure on Pyongyang to surrender its banned nuclear weapons in the run-up to the summit between North Korean leader Kim and US President Donald Trump.

South Korea's Chosun Ilbo reported that China, South Korea and Japan are fine-tuning their views on economic sanctions against Pyongyang.

It said South Korea and Japan are in favour of keeping up the maximum pressure until the North denuclearises completely, while China favours lifting sanctions gradually in keeping with progress.

Beijing has been keen to show that it has an indispensable role to play in seeking a lasting solution, concerned that its interests may be ignored, especially as Pyongyang and Washington edge closer together. The widely read Chinese state-run tabloid the Global Times said in an editorial any suggestion China was being marginalised "is a shallow attempt to manipulate public opinion".

China preferred quieter diplomacy, it said, pointing to the secrecy surrounding Kim's meeting with Xi.

"But Seoul, for its own political purposes, created much hype about the inter-Korean summit. US President Donald Trump has started claiming credit for the Kim-Trump summit before it even starts," it said.