China greatly concerned as Peninsula situation 'may spiral out of control'
BEIJING - President Hu Jintao told US President Barack Obama that the situation on the Korean Peninsula may spiral out of control if not handled properly, during a telephone conversation on Monday.
The conversation, the first the two leaders have had with each other since the two Koreas exchanged artillery fire last month, signaled that both China and the United States want to calm tension on the peninsula, experts said.
"We need an easing (of tensions), not a ratcheting up; dialogue, not confrontation; peace, not war," Hu was quoted as telling Obama, according to the Foreign Ministry's website.
"The fragile security situation on the Korean Peninsula, if not properly handled, could lead to a further escalation of tension, or even run out of control, which is not in the common interests of the parties concerned," Hu said.
"China has always believed that dialogue and negotiations are the only right way to solve the issues and achieve lasting peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula," Hu said, stressing that the situation calls for an immediate resumption of the Six-Party Talks.
Hu told Obama that China is greatly concerned about the current tension, deeply regretting the loss of life and property in an exchange of artillery fire on Nov 23 between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Republic of Korea (ROK).
The Foreign Ministry also quoted Hu as saying that "under the current situation, it is imperative that the response is cool and rational and that we firmly prevent a deterioration of the situation".
The White House said Obama urged Beijing to work with the US and others to "send a clear message to North Korea that its provocations are unacceptable".
Obama also said that the situation on the Korean Peninsula affects the security of East Asia generally, according to the Foreign Ministry.
The US is willing to work closely with China to achieve denuclearization on the peninsula, remove the risk of instability there and maintain security in Northeast Asia, Obama said.
The White House said Obama made the call to Hu to discuss the DPRK and other international issues.
"China is gravely worried about the situation on the peninsula because if large-scale conflict were to erupt on its border, China would face enormous political and strategic problems," said Shi Yinhong, director of the Center for American Studies at Renmin University of China.
The phone call "does highlight China's sense of urgency toward the situation".
Despite the common goal of reducing tensions, differences remain over possible solutions to the crisis, according to analysts.
The telephone conversation comes at a time when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is hosting her counterparts from Japan and the ROK for talks on the peninsula on Monday.
All three nations have responded coolly to an earlier Chinese proposal to hold an emergency meeting of heads of delegations to the Six-Party Talks to discuss the crisis, but they will discuss the proposal in the trilateral meeting.
"The tripartite meeting, excluding China and Russia, means that the US does not seek an immediate cooling of the Korean Peninsula crisis," said Chen Qi, an expert on East Asian studies at Tsinghua University.
According to Sun Zhe, director of the Center for US-China Relations at Tsinghua University, the phone call could be an attempt to avoid the perception that the Washington meeting binds the US, Japan and the ROK on one side against China, Russia and the DPRK on the other.
Fan Jishe, a professor of American studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that it's time for Washington to change its mindset on the Korean Peninsula issue.
"The US has made a mistake in constantly pressing the DPRK to give up its nuclear program before resuming talks, which only feeds tensions. Pyongyang will never compromise unless it feels secure," said Fan.
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula escalated on Monday as the ROK started live-fire naval exercises.
Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the five-day drill would take place in 29 locations off the ROK, despite the DPRK's warnings that it could trigger war.
Bad weather had delayed one of the drills off Daecheong island near the disputed Yellow Sea border, which will go ahead later in the week.
Reuters, AFP and Wang Di contributed to this story.