YEONPYEONG ISLAND, South Korea (AP) — China tried to defuse tensions Sunday over a recent North Korean attack on South Korea by proposing an emergency meeting in Beijing, hours after the U.S. and South Korea launched naval war games in a united show of force.
Beijing's top nuclear envoy called for an emergency meeting among the six nations involved in the stalled North Korean nuclear disarmament talks — hoping to calm tempers over North Korea's artillery barrage last Tuesday on South Korea's front-line island of Yeongpyong.
Nuclear envoy Wu Dawei said in a statement issued in Beijing that the international community, particularly members of the six-party talks — the two Koreas, Japan, the U.S., China and Russia — were deeply concerned about recent developments.
He called for a meeting of chief nuclear negotiations in China in early December.
However, it was unclear whether the proposal would be accepted. Seoul and Washington have resisted restarting the disarmament-for-aid talks until Pyongyang shows a concrete commitment to denuclearization.
Japan responded cautiously.
"We will respond carefully while closely cooperating with South Korea and the United States," Tetsuro Fukuyama, Japan's deputy chief cabinet secretary, told reporters when asked about the Chinese proposal.
The troubled relations between the two Koreas, which fought a three-year war in the 1950s, have steadily deteriorated since a conservative government took power in 2008 with a tough new policy toward nuclear-armed North Korea.
Eight months after the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship, North Korean troops showered artillery on Yeonpyeong, a South Korean-held island that houses military bases as well as a civilian population of 1,300, in an attack Tuesday that marked a new level of hostility.
Two South Korean marines and two civilians were killed and 18 others wounded when the North rained artillery on Yeonpyeong in one of the worst assaults since the 1950-53 Korean War. The attack sent residents fleeing into bunkers and reduced dozens of homes on the island to charred rubble.
North Korea blamed the South for provoking the attack by holding artillery drills near the Koreas' maritime border, and has steadily threatened to be "merciless" if the war games continue.
As U.S. and South Korean ships — including the nuclear-powered USS George Washington — sailed into the waters off Korea's west coast Sunday, China began launching its diplomatic bid to calm tensions. Washington and Seoul had been pressing China, North Korea's main ally and benefactor, to help defuse the situation amid fears of all-out war.
Chinese state councilor Dai Bingguo made a last-minute visit to Seoul to confer with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
Lee pressured Dai, a senior foreign policy adviser, to contribute to peace in a "more objective, responsible" matter, and warned Sunday that Seoul would respond "strongly" to any further provocation, his office said in a statement.
The strong words were Lee's first public comment in days. He was due to address the nation Monday morning amid calls from his people to take tougher action against the defiant North.
China was slow at first to react after ally North Korea pummeled a South Korean island with an artillery barrage on Tuesday, but has quickened its diplomatic intervention in recent days.
North Korea walked away from the disarmament-for-aid talks in April 2009 following international condemnation for launching a rocket seen as a test of its long-range missile technology.
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