BEIJING Chinese President Hu Jintao vowed on Monday to bolster ties with North Korea and backed its young leader, Kim Jong-un, despite an international outcry over the North's recent rocket launch and the possibility of a third nuclear test by the isolated state.
Hu made the show of friendship in a meeting with Kim Yong-il, the Korean Workers' Party director of international affairs, according to China's official Xinhua news agency in a report that did not mention the rocket launch or a dispute over North Korea's nuclear program.
North Korea has said its failed rocket launch on April 13 was meant to put a satellite into orbit. Other governments have said it was meant to boost North Korea's ability to make a ballistic missile that could hit the continental United States.
Although chiding North Korea over the launch and its disputed nuclear ambitions, China's ruling Communist Party has stressed its hopes for steady ties with its neighbor, which it sees as a traditional ally and buffer against U.S. influence. Hu stressed that friendly theme to the visiting Kim.
"The traditional friendship between China and North Korea was personally created and nurtured by our two parties' and countries' former generation of revolutionaries, and is our precious common treasure," Hu said, according to Xinhua.
"Constantly consolidating and developing Chinese-North Korean friendly cooperation is the firm and unbending policy of China's party and government," he added.
Hu's comments underscored the extent to which China remains committed to shoring up North Korea, in spite of regional tension over the rocket launch and the possibility of another, third nuclear test explosion by the North.
China joined other powers in backing a U.N. Security Council statement condemning the North's rocket launch and warning it of consequences if it carries out another launch or nuclear test.
But China has repeatedly fended off calls for harsher pressure and sanctions on the North.
Satellite images have shown that the North has pushed ahead with work at a facility where it held previous nuclear tests.
Hu praised Kim Jong-un, the young leader who is the third and latest dynastic ruler of North Korea's one-party state.
"We are confident that under the leadership of Comrade Kim Jong-un, the Korean Workers' Party and government will certainly be able to lead the North Korean people in unified struggle, forging forward to constantly score new successes in building a strong and prosperous socialist country," said Hu.
He obliquely referred to the regional tension with North Korea, saying that the two countries should strive together to "protect the lasting peace of northeast Asia".
(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Robert Birsel)