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Updated: November 29, 2010 06:25 IST

China calls for emergency 6-party meet to resolve Korean crisis

Ananth Krishnan
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A South Korean Navy rubber boat, bottom, and a marine police ship patrol near Yeonpyeong island, South Korea on Saturday. The sound of new artillery fire from North Korea just hours after the U.S. and South Korea launched a round of war games in Korean waters, sent residents and journalists on a front-line island scrambling for cover on Sunday.
AP A South Korean Navy rubber boat, bottom, and a marine police ship patrol near Yeonpyeong island, South Korea on Saturday. The sound of new artillery fire from North Korea just hours after the U.S. and South Korea launched a round of war games in Korean waters, sent residents and journalists on a front-line island scrambling for cover on Sunday.

South Korea has reacted cautiously to China's proposal, stating ""Our government will take note of China’s proposal."

China on Sunday proposed “emergency consultations” among representatives of the Six Party Talks – which involve the North and South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United States – to help resolve the escalating crisis on the Korean Peninsula. The Chinese proposal follows Tuesday's exchange of artillery fire.

China’s special representative for the Korean Peninsula Wu Dawei, who is also a Vice-Foreign Minister, made the proposal at a hurriedly-scheduled press briefing here on Sunday afternoon. He suggested that the consultations could be held in Beijing in early December.

He said China believed it was “necessary” for the heads of delegations of the Six-Party Talks to “exchange views on major issues” and make contributions “to ease tensions in Northeast Asia.” The talks have been stalled for two years after North Korea conducted missile tests and quit the talks.

China’s offer received a cautious response from South Korea, which has opposed the resumption of the Six-Party Talks as long as the North continued its controversial nuclear programme. The talks have been stalled for two years after North Korea conducted missile tests and quit the talks.

“Our government will take note of China’s proposal,” the South Korean foreign ministry said in a statement, adding that it would “very carefully consider” the offer.

Mr. Wu said December’s consultations would not signal a resumption of the stalled talks, but China hoped it would create conditions for doing so. “The Six-Party Talks play an important role in strengthening communication between parties, advancing denuclearisation and safe-guarding peace and stability in Northeast Asia,” he said.

“China’s consistent position is that the Six-Party talks must be resumed at an early date,” he added. “I would like to stress that although the proposed consultations do not mean resumption of the Six-Party Talks, we hope they will create conditions for the resumption [of the talks].

China has stepped up its diplomatic efforts in recent days in a bid to address the crisis on the Korean Peninsula. Tuesday's exchange of fire, which marked the most serious escalation in tensions since the end of the Korean War in 1953, left at least four dead and 18 injured on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, which was shelled by the North. Both sides have accused the other of starting the hostilities.

China’s State Councillor Dai Bingguo held talks with South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak in Seoul on Sunday, with both sides expressing willingness to work together to achieve peace and stability, said Mr.Wu.

Mr. Dai also voiced China’s opposition to any moves that would “undermine peace and stability” in the region, suggesting Beijing had reiterated its concerns over the on-going military exercises being conducted by the U.S. and South Korea in the Yellow Sea. The North has warned that the four-day exercises, which began on Sunday, would bring the region to the “brink of war.”

Mr. Lee called on China, which is the North's only major ally, to take a “fair and responsible” position on the issue, the Seoul-based Yonhap news agency reported. Mr. Lee also ruled out resumption of the Six-Party Talks, but did not immediately respond to China’s proposal for consultations.

The response from other South Korean leaders in the ruling Grand National Party appeared to be cold. Mr Bae Eun-hee, a spokesperson for the GNP, told Yonhap that talks would be “meaningless” without an apology from the North. “It [the Chinese proposal] can’t be a solution to the situation after a provocation has taken place. It’s disappointing,” he said.

The U.S., too, has been reluctant to resume the Six-Party Talks unless the North took concrete steps towards abandoning its nuclear programme. Following last week’s revelation that the North had recently unveiled a new uranium enrichment facility, U.S. special envoy Stephen Bosworth appeared to rule out any likelihood in dialogue resuming, during a visit to Beijing.

The talks were set up by the six nations in 2003 with the aim of moving towards denuclearisation on the peninsula, proposing that North Korea abandon its nuclear programme in return for aid.

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