During a meeting with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, former Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan also said that Beijing hopes South and North Korea will resume fresh exchanges and cooperation, according to presidential spokeswoman Kim Haing.
Tang, an expert on inter-Korean affairs who served as China's foreign minister from 1998-2003, was in Seoul as part of a five-day trip here that began on Wednesday.
Park told Tang that she will deal sternly with North Korean provocations while leaving the door for dialogue open. She also said that China and other members of the international community should send a united message to Pyongyang to help the North choose the right path, according to Kim.
Park said she hopes China will try to persuade North Korea to start sincere talks with the South, expressing regret about the recent cancellation of what would have been the first high-level talks between the two Koreas in six years. The talks were called off at the last minute due to a row over the rank of chief delegates.
Tang's meeting Friday with Park came as the South Korean president prepared for her first summit with her Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing later this month.
Park has repeatedly said she will use the summit with Xi, set for June 27, to enlist Beijing's help in pressuring North Korea to give up its nuclear programs and further bolster cooperation with Beijing in making Pyongyang realize that its bad behavior will never be rewarded.
Earlier this month, the new Chinese president and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed at a bilateral summit that Pyongyang has to abandon its nuclear weapons aspirations, the latest indication that Beijing may be toughening its stance on its communist neighbor.
As a key provider of economic aid and diplomatic protection for North Korea, China has long been considered the only country with any meaningful influence over Pyongyang, though it has been reluctant to use that leverage over concern that pushing the North too hard could hurt its national interests.
In recent months, however, China has apparently been taking a tougher approach to Pyongyang, especially after the North's long-range rocket launch in December and its third nuclear test in February. Beijing has since backed a U.N. sanctions resolution against the North and has been carrying out the restrictions more vigorously than before.
North Korea was a focus of global attention for months earlier this year as the provocative regime made near-daily war threats against South Korea and the United States in anger over the U.N. resolution and American-involved annual military drills in the South.
In an abrupt about-face, however, Pyongyang made a surprise dialogue proposal last week. South Korea accepted the offer and the two sides had agreed to hold their first high-level talks in six years this week, but the agreement unraveled at the last minute due to a dispute over the levels of chief delegates.
In a lunch meeting with state-honored patriots and their families, Park said South Korea faces a mountain of issues to resolve, but she believes that everything will be fine if the country tries to tackle them based on "principles."
The remark was seen as underlining her commitment to stick to principles in dealing with North Korea without giving in to threats and provocations from Pyongyang so as to put inter-Korean relations on a more normal footing.
Seoul's insistence on matching the levels of chief delegates was indicative of those principles.