BEIJING (Reuters) - China's most senior diplomat has vowed to deepen ties with North Korea and praised its young leader Kim Jong-un, despite an international outcry over Pyongyang's recent rocket launch and the possibility of a third nuclear test by the isolated state.
State Councillor Dai Bingguo, who steers Chinese diplomacy and outranks the foreign minister, made the show of friendship in a meeting with Kim Yong-il, the Korean Workers' Party director of international affairs, according to a statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry late on Sunday.
Dai's published remarks did not mention North Korea's failed rocket launch on April 13, which Pyongyang said aimed to put a weather satellite into orbit.
Other governments have said the launch was intended to boost North Korea's ability to make a ballistic missile that could strike the continental United States.
Despite chiding Pyongyang over the launch, China's ruling Communist Party has been careful to preserve ties with neighboring North Korea, which it sees as a traditional ally and buffer against U.S. influence. Dai stressed that bond.
"The traditional friendship between China and North Korea is a precious treasure for our two parties, two countries and our peoples," Dai told Kim Yong-il, who has been visiting Beijing.
"China is willing to work with North Korea to take friendly cooperation to new heights," Dai said, according to the report on the Chinese foreign ministry's website (www.mfa.gov.cn).
Dai's comments underscored the extent to which Beijing remains committed to shoring up North Korea.
Beijing joined other powers in backing a United Nations Security Council statement condemning the North's rocket launch and warning Pyongyang 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.
Dai praised Kim Jong-un, the young leader who is the third and latest dynastic ruler of North Korea's one-party state.
Dai voiced "confidence that under the leadership of Kim Jong-un, the First Secretary of the Workers Party of Korea, the Korean party, government and people will constantly score new successes in building a strong and prosperous country", said the report.
(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Paul Tait)