North Korea has the right to develop a peaceful nuclear power program only if it rejoins the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The United States has argued during six-nation disarmament talks that the isolated communist North's record of weapons development proves it shouldn't be allowed any kind of nuclear program.
But other countries, including South Korea, back the North's right in principle to have a peaceful nuclear program after it disarms and complies with international standards.
The disagreement prompted envoys to the six-party talks, which also include Japan and Russia, to call a recess in early August. North Korea says it is willing to return in early September.
"If a country joins the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and accepts the relevant safeguards it will be able to enjoy the peaceful use of nuclear energy," said Zhang Yan, director-general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's arms control department.
Zhang, speaking at a news conference, was responding to a question about whether China believed the North should be allowed to have light-water reactors.
"With regard to North Korea's claim to the right to use peaceful nuclear power, under the relevant provisions of the treaty ... it is or should be entitled to enjoy those rights," Zhang said.
South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon made similar comments Thursday in Seoul.
North Korea could be allowed a peaceful atomic program only after complete dismantlement of its nuclear programs and a promise to return to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and implement nuclear safeguards by the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ban said according to the AP.