U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao discussed the Korean Peninsula over the telephone on Monday as Mr. Hu said he was worried by the “fragile situation” there.

China’s Foreign Ministry said Mr. Hu urged a “calm and rational response from all sides to prevent the deterioration of the fragile security situation on the Korean Peninsula.” “The fragile security situation on the Korean Peninsula, if not properly handled, could lead to further escalation of tension, or even run out of control,” he was quoted as telling Mr. Obama.

A ministry statement carried by state media quoted Mr. Obama as telling Mr. Hu that the United States wanted “close cooperation” with China on achieving the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula through negotiations.

Mr. Hu and Mr. Obama spoke at the request of the U.S. side, the statement said.

Their discussion took place as South Korea started live ammunition firing drills around its coastline on Monday, with Seoul vowing to toughen its stance against its northern neighbour amid recent hostilities.

South Korean President Lee Myung Bak has faced criticism for the moderate response to the shelling of a South Korean island in November, which killed two servicemen and two civilians.

The new South Korean Defence Minister Kim Kwan Jin said the armed forces would “take strong measures so that North Korea can’t dare to provoke again,” the South Korean Yonhap News Agency reported.

But no new exercises were planned near the area’s island of Yeonpyeong, which was shelled by North Korean artillery on November 23, out of consideration for the residents’ safety, Yonhap quoted sources as saying.

North Korea on Sunday criticized the planned manoeuvres, and accused Seoul of being “hell-bent on the moves to escalate the confrontation and start a war.” The naval drills were scheduled to continue until Friday.

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