As both North Korea's largest trading partner and a country engaged in diplomatic talks with South Korea, China is dealing with both sides of an increasingly divided Korean peninsula.
China is proposing to convene an emergency consultation with members of the six-party talks amid growing tensions on the Korean peninsula, a Chinese official said Sunday.
"The Chinese side, after careful studies, proposes to have emergency consultations among the heads of delegation to the six-party talks in early December in Beijing to exchange views on major issues of concern to the parties at present," Wu Dawei, Chinese special representative for Korean peninsula affairs, told journalists.
"The six-party talks play an important role in strengthening communication among the parties, advancing denuclearization on the peninsula and safeguarding peace and stability on the peninsula and in northeast Asia," he said.
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Diplomats, seeking a lessening of tensions and a return to the six-party talks with North Korea over the country's nuclear aspirations, have busily labored to avert more hostilities. The United States, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and North Korea are the six countries that have been involved in the discussions, which were put on hold in 2008.
But China said the proposed emergency consultations do not mean a resumption of the six-party talks, China's state media reported.
The South Korean government will "bear in mind" China's proposal, according to a Foreign Ministry press release. But the government added that given the current situation, the proposal "needs to be carefully reviewed."
U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday that China is the key to resolving the conflict, but said the country is "not behaving as a responsible world power."
"They could bring the North Korean economy to its knees if they wanted to. And I cannot believe that the Chinese should, in a mature fashion, not find it in their interest to restrain North Korea. So far, they are not," McCain said.
McCain called the proposal for a six-party meeting a "fine first step," but said that North Korea's history of confrontation will not come to a stop without significant penalties.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula mounted last week when four South Koreans died after North Korea's shelling of Yeonpyeong Island during a South Korean military drill Tuesday.
North Korea said the South provoked the attack because shells from the South Korean drill landed in the North's waters.
"We express our condolences to the victims of the Yeonpyeong island incident and will make efforts for the sake of peace between North and South Korea so that the situation does not deteriorate," Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo said during a meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Sunday.
The South Korean president asked that China "contribute to achieving peace on the Korean peninsula with a fairer and responsible position in regards to North and South Korean relations."
Lee added that "South Korea has endured endless provocations from the North since the Korean War, but if North Korea carries out an additional provocation, we will take strong countermeasures."
On Sunday, South Korea and the United States began joint military exercises on the Yellow Sea -- another point of contention in the region.
North Korea has warned of unpredictable "consequences" if the United States fulfilled its vow of deploying an aircraft carrier to the Yellow Sea for the military maneuvers.
"The DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] will deal a merciless military counter-attack at any provocative act of intruding into its territorial waters in the future," North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said Sunday.
China appeared to have criticized the joint military exercises last week.
"We oppose any party to take any military acts in our exclusive economic zone without permission," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement, according to China's state-run Xinhua news agency.
The China-North Korea relations take another step on Tuesday, when Choe Tae Bok, chairman of North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly, will pay an official visit to China, Xinhua reported. Choe was invited by Wu Bangguo, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress of China, the agency said.