North Korea's key ally China offered deep condolences Monday on the death of Kim Jong Il and immediately offered its steadfast support to his son and successor.
The Communist Party's Central Committee, the top policy-setting body, hailed Kim Jong Un as North Korea's new leader and said long-standing ties will flourish between the two countries.
"We believe the (North Korean) people will carry forward of the will of Comrade Kim Jong Il and closely unite around the Korean Workers' Party, and under the leadership of Comrade Kim Jong Un, turn grief into strength and march forward for building a socialist strong country and realizing a lasting peace on the Korean peninsula," the party said in a statement read on state television.
The statement is a rare tribute from the Chinese leadership on the death of a foreign leader. Hours earlier, China's Foreign Ministry issued condolences on behalf of the government, praising the elder Kim as "a great leader of the North Korean people and a dear friend to the people of China."
The twin statements highlight the growing emphasis Chinese leaders have placed on ties with North Korea after years of tensions over the North's refusal to reform its listless economy and its recurring provocative acts against South Korea that whip up tensions in the region.
Beijing sees North Korea as a strategic bulwark against a democratic South Korea allied with the U.S. In recent years it has become North Korea's indispensable diplomatic protector and economic partner, accounting for the bulk of its trade, much of its investment and all of its oil. Kim was a frequent visitor to China, coming twice this year alone, most recently in August when he stopped off while returning home from Russia.
A pair of visits by Kim last year were seen as laying the foundation for the succession of Kim Jong Un, his youngest son. The elder Kim's visits were always shrouded in secrecy, with news of his activities and even confirmation of his presence in the country usually withheld until he had crossed the border _ always by train _ back into North Korea.
Chinese experts say they don't anticipate any change in relations, but that Beijing will likely beef up security to guard against disorder that potentially could send millions of impoverished, starving refugees across their long border.