Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said in a brief statement that China was "seriously concerned with the situation."
"We hope that all the relevant sides can remain calm and restrained and do more things which are conducive to peace and stability ... and not take any actions to escalate and complicate the situation," said the statement, which was posted on the ministry's Web site.
The statement, which failed to mention North Korea by name, was Beijing's first response to the test-firings and came more than 15 hours after Pyongyang began the barrage. Click here to read the story.
The tone and timing contrasted with the condemnations issued by other world and regional powers and with the grim assessments issued by members of China's foreign-policy community.
The missile tests are "just not in China's interests," said Jin Canrong of Renmin University in Beijing. Jin ticked off a list of likely aftereffects from the North Korean act: hostility from Japan, increasing U.S. pressure for U.N. sanctions against North Korea and derailing already stalled six-nation talks on the North's nuclear programs.
China is the North's neighbor and most important ally, providing critical fuel, food and other economic assistance to the diplomatically isolated Pyongyang government. That has given Beijing a central role in the region's diplomacy, especially as Washington has pressured it to rein in North Korea's often erratic behavior.
In recent days and with prompting from other countries, Beijing had actively tried to diffuse tensions. It sought to discourage North Korea from firing the long-range Taepodong-2 missile that was perched on a launch pad. It also floated a new proposal to revive the six-party talks, which involve the United States, Russia, South Korea and Japan, as well as North Korea.
In the wake of the early Wednesday missile tests, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing had telephone conversations with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as well as the foreign ministers of Japan, South Korea and Australia to "exchange views on new developments on the situation," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said, without giving more details.
In his statement, Chinese spokesman Liu said China remained committed to easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula and would keep pushing for a resumption of the six-party talks. "We will, as always, together with relevant parties, continue to play a constructive role," Liu said.
Earlier in the day, the United States called the missile tests a provocation. Japan banned from Japanese ports a North Korean ferry that serves as a vital link for the economically weak country.
Australia and Russia called in the North Korean ambassadors in their countries, while Indonesia dispatched a special envoy to the North Korean capital.