BEIJING (AP) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping urged all parties to disputes on the Korean Peninsula to maintain calm and restraint in a meeting Wednesday with a high-ranking North Korean envoy that appeared aimed at easing strains in the bilateral relationship.
Xi's meeting with Ri Su Yong, head of the ruling Workers Party of Korea's international department, came amid a downturn in relations between the formerly close Communist neighbors following North Korea's repeated defiance of China's calls to curb its missile launches and nuclear tests. Officially, Ri is in Beijing to brief Xi and other Chinese officials on the outcome of the Workers Party's first national congress in decades, held last month.
China's official Xinhua News Agency made no mention of relationship strains In its report on the meeting, quoting Xi instead as saying that Ri's visit underscored the "tradition of strategic communication on issues of major importance" between the countries' ruling parties.
China "attaches great importance" to friendly and cooperative relations with North Korea and is willing to make joint efforts to safeguard, consolidate and develop the ties, Xinhua quoted Xi as saying.
"China's position on the (Korean Peninsula) issue is consistent and clear. We hope relevant parties maintain calm and restraint, strengthen communication and dialogue, and safeguard regional peace and stability," Xi said.
Ri was recently promoted to vice chairman of the ruling party and is a close confidante of North Korea's young leader, Kim Jong Un, particularly on foreign relations.
Beijing-Pyongyang ties have cooled significantly under Kim, largely due to his government's aggressive pursuit of nuclear weapon and missile technology and refusal to heed China's advice on reforming its moribund economy. Kim has yet to visit Beijing since taking power following the 2011 death of his father, Kim Jong Il, who made several trips to China.
Although China remains North Korea's biggest source of diplomatic support and economic help, Beijing this year agreed to new United Nations sanctions on the country, and observers say trade exchanges between the two have declined dramatically.
At the same time, Beijing has called for talks on a peace treaty between North Korea and the U.S. and denounced a U.S. plan to possibly deploy an advanced missile defense system to South Korea.
While the May party congress was North Korea's biggest political event in decades, experts on North Korean politics said there was less top-level personnel reshuffling than expected, underscoring the stability of Kim's powerbase. Some have said Kim needed to consolidate his position at home before turning to relations with China.
Asked about Ri's visit, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she had no additional information, but that China remained committed to "pushing ahead with the denuclearization, peace and stability on the (Korean) Peninsula, and to solving the relevant issues through dialogue and negotiations.
"China's position on the nuclear issues of the peninsula has not changed, nor has China's position on building China-North Korea relations," Hua told reporters at a daily briefing.