The United States expects China to wield its influence over North Korea, said a senior State Department official, after an exchange of artillery fire between North and South Korea on Tuesday. During a media briefing, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley said: “China is pivotal to moving North Korea in a fundamentally different direction,” adding that while it was up to North Korea to stop provocative acts, the U.S. believed that China had influence with North Korea.

He said, “We don't want to understate or overstate that [influence that China has]. It is not that China can dictate a particular action to North Korea, but it is that China, together with the U.S. and other countries, have to send a clear, direct, unified message that it is North Korea that has to change.”

The incident on the fringes of the Yellow Sea elicited reactions across the board within the U.S government with the White House saying, “The U.S. strongly condemns this attack and calls on North Korea to halt its belligerent action and to fully abide by the terms of the Armistice Agreement.”

Navy Admiral Mike Mullen said while Americans should be concerned about North Korea's “volatile posture,” the U.S. had 28,000 troops in South Korea, where “we are very much aligned with in supporting them”.

According to the American Forces Press Service, the USS George Washington aircraft carrier will join South Korean naval forces in the Yellow Sea west of the peninsula to conduct enhanced military exercises from November 28 to December 1.

To a question on why the U.S. expected China reaction to be any different to its statements on the sinking of South Korea's Cheonan ship earlier this year, Mr. Crowley said the U.S. had held discussions with China both in Beijing and in Washington and they expected high-level conversations with China to continue in the coming days.

Reiterating the U.S.' keenness to see a stronger Chinese reaction, however, he added, “So this is something that we feel strongly about, and we will be communicating that. We have already communicated that to China. We will continue to encourage China to send a direct message to North Korea.”

Touching on the specific steps that the U.S. expected to see from China, Mr. Crowley said “We would hope and expect that China will use [its] influence first to reduce tensions that have arisen as a result of North Korean provocations, and then secondly, continue to encourage North Korea to take affirmative steps to denuclearise.”

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