Beijing urged calm and restraint yesterday ahead of an emergency the UN Security Council meeting - which 'deplored' North Korea's attempted rocket launch but stopped short of using tougher language.
The launch failure - the first under the new rule of Kim Jong-un - prompted fears Pyongyang will now stage a third nuclear test to save face.
The launch, officially to put a satellite in orbit, had been timed as part of celebrations to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of the late Kim Il-sung, Jong-un's grandfather and the founder of the hermit state's communist dynasty.
'We hope all relevant parties can maintain calm and restraint and refrain from acts that would harm peace and stability on the [Korean] peninsula and in the region,' Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said in a statement, which also called for 'contact and dialogue'.
Liu said China had not been given any warning of the launch.
The US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said the Security Council 'deplored this launch' as a violation of UN resolutions. The wording was more moderate than the condemnations issued separately by Western powers. Rice said council members 'agreed to continue consultations on an appropriate response'.
Japan and South Korea described the launch as a provocative act that imperilled regional security.
They say it was a test of a long-range missile that could in the future be loaded with a nuclear warhead - and was therefore a breach of Security Council resolutions.
Chinese state media offered little coverage or commentary on the failure, which saw the rocket break apart and explode over the Yellow Sea.
Unusually, Pyongyang confirmed the satellite had failed to reach orbit and said 'scientists, technicians and experts are now looking into the cause of the failure'.
Ralph Cossa, the Hawaii-based president of the Pacific Forum CSIS think tank, described it as 'an international embarrassment' for Kim.
He said: 'The rocket launch was supposed to demonstrate the regime's power ... and prowess.
'A nuclear test may now be seen as even more necessary, not just to perfect their weapons capability but to save face.'