SEOUL-- Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a rare message to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, expressing hope for "sound and stable" relations between the two countries, Pyongyang's state media reported Thursday in a probable sign of papering over their recent stand-offs.

Xi was replying Wednesday to Kim's congratulatory message last week on his re-election as the leader of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) at the 19th Congress of the party. Xi will remain in power at least until 2022.

"I wish that under the new situation, the Chinese side will make joint efforts with the North Korean side to promote the sustainable soundness and stable development of the relations between the two nations," Xi was quoted as saying by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The Chinese leader cited the need for "defending regional peace, stability and common prosperity," it added.

The exchange of cordial messages between Xi and Kim, the first in more than a year, came amid a widespread view that China's ties with its longtime ally are not as they were before Kim took power in late 2011. They have not held summit talks with each other yet.

The leaders' previous sending of friendly messages to each other came in July last year to celebrate the 55th anniversary of their mutual defense treaty.

China, seeking to play a "responsible" role in the international community, is apparently annoyed by repeated provocations by its recalcitrant neighbor.

Beijing has reportedly toughened sanctions on Pyongyang for its latest nuclear test in September.

Emboldened by the start of another five-year term as China's leader, Xi appears to be reaching out to neighboring countries.

On Tuesday, China announced an agreement with South Korea to end their yearlong row over the deployment of the THAAD missile defense system here.

"Clearly, China has become more active in its relations with South Korea. We need to pay heed to China's position on its ties with North Korea," a South Korean government official said, not wishing to be identified.

He said a high-profile Chinese delegation may travel to the North in the near future for a briefing on the outcome of its communist party congress, as it did after the previous session in 2012.

Experts pointed out Beijing is placing a priority on resuming denuclearization talks.

"Unless North Korea keeps firing missiles and conducting nuclear tests, China will try actively to open the dialogue phase," said Suh Jeong-kyung, a professor at the Sungkyunkwan University's China research institute. "China will seek to show off its role as the chair country of the six-party talks."

Source: Yonhap News Agency