President Xi Jinping has told his new South Korean counterpart that Beijing is willing to assist "reconciliation" between Seoul and Pyongyang, amid surging regional tensions.
It was the newly elevated leader's first public statement about the Korean peninsula since Pyongyang carried out its third nuclear test in February, following a long-range rocket launch in December.
Pyongyang has been angered by joint US-South Korean military exercises, which include naval ship drills and training missions involving nuclear-capable B-52 bombers over South Korea.
Suspicions are also likely to fall on Pyongyang for yesterday's cyber attack on a South Korean internet provider that brought down the servers of three broadcasters and two major banks. North Korea last week complained that its own websites had been hacked, blaming the US for carrying out the cyber attacks.
Beijing is Pyongyang's sole diplomatic and economic ally, but relations have been strained by North Korea's bellicose rhetoric and actions.
"China is willing to provide the necessary assistance to advance South-North reconciliation and co-operation," Xi told President Park Geun-hye in a phone call, according to a statement on the ministry website yesterday.
"The South and North are compatriots, and South-North relations are important to the situation on the peninsula."
Park urged Xi to use Beijing's leverage to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table, her spokeswoman said, but Xi noted that it was "difficult to persuade North Korea".
Xi was named president last week and has been holding his first discussions with foreign counterparts, while Park was inaugurated as South Korea's first female president last month.
China, which has angrily denied being behind a spate of cyber attacks on US interests, said yesterday's hacking incident in South Korea showed the importance of a collective response to IT threats.
"China would like to work with other countries based on mutual respect and constructive co-operation," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.
Seoul's Korea Internet Security Agency recorded 40,000 cases of cyber attacks from foreign and domestic sources in 2012, up sharply from 24,000 in 2008.
"South Korea is an IT superpower with good infrastructure but remains relatively vulnerable to hacking," Park Soon-tai, manager of the agency's hacking response team, said.
Agence France-Presse, Reuters