China said Friday it would strengthen military ties with ally North Korea, amid continuing tensions between Pyongyang and Seoul and stalled efforts to restart nuclear disarmament talks.
The vow follows a three-day visit to the North by the Chinese military's top political commissar, Li Jinai, during which he told North Korean leader Kim Jong Il that China's army wanted to enhance understanding and mutual trust and strengthen practical exchanges with the North Korean military.
"This would promote the all-around development of China-DPRK relations, which are neighborly and friendly," China's official Xinhua News Agency reported. DPRK stands for Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the official name of North Korea's isolated hardline regime.
No details were given on what practical steps the sides intend to take, and the vow appeared to be more of a political symbol of continuing Chinese support for the regime than a blueprint for real cooperation.
Although Li's trip was likely planned in advance, recent remarks by President Barack Obama asserting the U.S. military's continuing presence in Asia have riled Beijing. Chinese government-backed scholars and state media say they see the strengthening of America's alliance's with the Philippines, Australia and others as a new form of encirclement aimed at blocking China's rising predominance in the region.
Chinese troops fought with the North against U.S. and South Korean forces during the 1950-53 Korean War, and the nations still have a mutual protection pact. China remains Pyongyang's most important diplomatic ally and is a key source of food and fuel.
Beijing refused to condemn the North after South Korea accused it of two deadly attacks last year. Tensions have slackened somewhat, but talks on ending its nuclear programs remain stalled.