PYONGYANG/BEIJING - China on Monday reiterated its support for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's (DPRK) efforts to improve relations with the United States and the Republic of Korea (ROK).
Vice-Premier Li Keqiang expressed support for Pyongyang amid renewed hopes of progress in restarting Six-Party Talks on the DPRK's nuclear disarmament. DPRK and US negotiators held talks on Monday in Geneva on how to revive the long-stalled negotiations.
China supported the DPRK's efforts in boosting the US-DPRK dialogue, the improvement of North-South relations and the resumption of the Six-Party Talks, the Xinhua News Agency quoted Li as saying.
Li, meeting Kim Yong-nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, added that China would also strive to maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the region.
Li made similar comments when he met DPRK Premier Choe Yong-rim on Sunday, saying that China wants the DPRK to deepen talks with the ROK and the US in the hope of restarting nuclear negotiations soon.
"China supports the DPRK maintaining a correct focus on engagement and dialogue," Li told Choe on Sunday evening, according to Xinhua.
It was in the interests of all parties concerned for Pyongyang to improve ties with Seoul and Washington, avoiding instability on the peninsula, Li said.
The DPRK should seek an "early outcome from the dialogue, and the Six-Party Talks should be restarted as soon as possible to advance the denuclearization of the peninsula", he added.
The talks, launched in 2003, involve China, the DPRK, the US, the ROK, Japan and Russia.
China has maintained close contact and held consultations with the relevant parties on easing the situation and pushing the Six-Party Talks forward.
Yet the talks have been suspended since December 2008, and the Korean Peninsula has periodically experienced heightened tension since then, including an exchange of artillery fire last November.
Yet recently a flurry of diplomatic efforts has rekindled hopes of restarting the stalled talks, especially as DPRK top leader Kim Jong-il repeated his readiness to return "without any preconditions" in a recent interview with the media.
On Monday, DRPK and US negotiators began a second round of direct talks following ones held in July.
The two-day talks were staged at the US embassy in Geneva and chaired by the outgoing US special envoy for DPRK policy Stephen Bosworth and his replacement Glyn Davies on the US side and the first Vice-Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan on the DPRK side.
"We had initial presentations of our respective positions, and I think these were useful presentations," US Special Envoy for Six-Party Talks Clifford Hart said.
While analysts expect no breakthrough during the meeting, they see engagement between the two parties as a positive development.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu on Monday said Beijing hoped the talks "will help enhance mutual confidence and understanding".
"We also hope that this engagement will create conditions for appropriately resolving problems facing the restart of the Six-Party Talks," she told a regular news briefing.
During his three-day visit to the DPRK that began on Sunday, Li is being accompanied by senior diplomats and officials in charge of economic affairs, including Chen Yuan, head of the China Development Bank.
The two countries signed an agreement on economic and technological cooperation and other cooperative documents on Sunday, the DPRK's Korean Central News Agency said.
No details of the agreements were revealed.
Li said China is willing to work with the DPRK to continue to deepen their exchanges and cooperation in various fields.
Kim stressed that the DPRK-China friendship has stood the test of history.
Consolidating and developing the friendship is the consistent position of the DPRK government, Kim said.
China's economic ties with the DPRK have gradually shifted from providing aid to promoting the opening-up of its market, and the economic and trade cooperation has shown great potential, said Wang Junsheng, an expert on Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).
"The DPRK is willing to follow China's model of economic zones, which cover not only mineral products but also other sectors like financing," he said.
Both countries are working closely together on key projects, including two economic zones on the border area, a copper mine and a new bridge across the Yalu River.
In 2010, two-way trade jumped 29.6 percent year-on-year to a record high of $3.47 billion, and it reached $3.64 billion in the first eight months of this year, an 82.2-percent rise from the same period a year earlier, according to China's official figures.
Liu Jieyi, deputy head of the International Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, said that developing China-DPRK friendly relations and their increasingly-expanding exchanges and cooperation are conducive to regional peace, stability and development.
Long-term peace and stability, as well as development and prosperity in the northeast Asia region, are their common responsibility, said Liu, also a member of Li's entourage.
Li was expected to meet DPRK top leader Kim Jong-il late on Monday before coming back to China on Tuesday.
He is scheduled to visit the ROK on Wednesday and Thursday.
As one of few countries keeping friendly ties with both Koreas, China has been able to actively further the ties between them, said Wang with the CASS.
His visit to both countries will contribute to peace and stability in the region, said Piao Jianyi, an expert on the Korean Peninsula at CASS.