BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Hu Jintao sent congratulations to North Korea's Kim Jong-un on Saturday on his appointment as supreme military leader, in Beijing's most direct show of support for the young and untested successor to his father Kim Jong-il.
Hu's message, issued on the Chinese government's website (www.gov.cn), lauded the younger Kim's military promotion, which consolidated his status as the top leader of the North.
"There is a deep tradition of friendship between the peoples and the military forces of China and North Korea," said Hu, according to the statement.
"The traditional friendly cooperation between China and North Korea is sure to constantly consolidate and strengthen."
Hu's message was Beijing's latest display of support for Kim, whose country, economically threadbare and politically isolated, depends heavily on China, its sole major ally.
North Korea announced earlier in the day that it had appointed Kim Jong-un as supreme commander of its 1.2 million-strong military, two days after official mourning for his father ended.
Since Kim Jong-il's death on December 17, the North's state media have already dubbed Kim Jong-un "supreme commander."
Soon after the elder Kim's death was announced, China voiced "confidence" in Kim Jong-un, who is in his late twenties and was barely known to the outside world before his father designated him his successor-in-waiting.
Hu also made a rare visit to North Korea's embassy in Beijing to offer condolences.
China sees neighboring North Korea as a strategic barrier against the United States and its regional allies, and has made clear that it considers preserving its influence in the North a foreign policy priority.
But that goal comes with an economic and diplomatic price.
China's trade and aid are crucial to Pyongyang's survival, but bring only puny economic gains to Beijing.
In October 2006, North Korea carried out its first nuclear test explosion, defying public pleas from China, and nuclear disarmament negotiations hosted by Beijing have languished for years without fresh progress or even fresh talks.
(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)