China on Monday said it was “shocked” to learn of the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, expressing its condolences and pledging to continue “consolidating and developing” its relationship with its troubled neighbour and longtime ally.

“We are shocked to learn that Democratic People’s Republic of Korea [DPRK] top leader, comrade Kim Jong-il, passed away and we hereby express our deep condolences on his demise and send sincere regards to the DPRK people,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry described Mr. Kim as “a great leader of the DPRK people and a close friend of the Chinese people.”

“He made contributions to developing the DPRK socialist cause and promoting friendly and neighbourly ties between China and the DPRK,” added Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Weimin at a regular briefing on Monday.

“We are confident that the DPRK people will convert their sorrow to strength… and continue to advance the DPRK socialist cause,” he said.

Mr. Kim has been grooming his son Kim Jong-un, thought to be in his late 20s, as his successor. Earlier this year, the younger Kim was thought to have visited China and met some of the leadership, although his trip was not officially confirmed.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said following the death of the “Dear Leader”, the country should “faithfully revere respectable comrade Kim Jong-un”. It said the people and the military had “pledged to uphold the leadership of Kim Jong-un”.

China, which has been the North’s biggest source of financial and food aid, is expected to continue supporting the North to ensure stability across its eastern border, Chinese analysts said on Monday. China fears that any instability in its troubled neighbour could result in a flood of refugees across the border into northeastern China.

Mr. Liu of the Foreign Ministry said China would continue to work together with North Korea towards “consolidating” the bilateral relationship and “to safeguard peace and stability on the Korean pensinsula and in the region.”

Gong Keyu, deputy director of the Centre for Asian-Pacific Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies and a Chinese expert on North Korea, told The Hindu that China’s policies towards the North “will not change.”

“We will insist that we really want peace and stability and denuclearisation,” she said. “A concern is that South Korea, Japan and the United States may all be worried now [about stability in North Korea], but China will continue to cooperate with those countries.”

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