ROK, US launch joint naval drills as DPRK warns of counter-attack
BEIJING - China on Sunday proposed emergency consultations, among participants to the Six-Party Talks, next month amid rising tension on the Korean Peninsula.
It was China's latest move following the exchange of artillery fire last week between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Republic of Korea (ROK).
It came as the ROK and the United States launched a four-day joint naval drill on Sunday in waters west of the Korean Peninsula, with the US aircraft carrier USS George Washington joining the drill.
A spokesman for the US 7th Fleet said no live-fire drills were planned. Officials would not supply exact locations but Yonhap news agency in the ROK said the drills were taking place about 160 kilometers south of Yeonpyeong island, the scene of last week's artillery barrage by the DPRK.
The ROK Defense Ministry told journalists to leave the island on Sunday because the situation was "bad". Many residents, evacuated earlier, said they did not want to return.
The DPRK on Sunday blasted the exercises, saying they were bringing war to the Korean Peninsula.
Pyongyang said on Saturday it will deal "a merciless military counter-attack" at any provocative act of intrusion into its territorial waters, according to the official Rodong Sinmun in a commentary.
China has repeatedly called for calm and restraint, urging the resumption of the stalled Six-Party Talks among China, the DPRK, the US, the ROK, Russia and Japan.
Special representative Wu told a news conference: "A series of complicated factors have recently emerged on the Korean Peninsula. The international community, particularly members of the Six-Party Talks, is deeply concerned."
Wu said the proposed consultations did not mean the resumption of the Six-Party Talks, but he hoped they could "help create conditions" for their resumption.
The talks, launched in 2003, stalled when the DPRK quit in April 2009.
The ROK responded cautiously to the latest proposal, with its foreign ministry saying in a statement that the proposal should be "reviewed very carefully".
Japan will closely coordinate with Seoul and Washington in its response to China's proposal, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama told reporters in Tokyo.
Meanwhile in Seoul, China's State Councilor Dai Bingguo met with ROK President Lee Myung-bak on Sunday.
Stressing the situation on the peninsula was worrisome, the two sides agreed the parties concerned should make joint efforts to engage in serious contact and dialogue to ease tensions and safeguard overall peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia.
Dai arrived in Seoul on Saturday and discussed the situation on the Korean Peninsula with ROK Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan.
On Saturday, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi also discussed the situation with his Japanese counterpart Seiji Maehara and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on the phone.
Choe Tae-bok, chairman of the Supreme People's Assembly of the DPRK, will pay an official visit to China from Tuesday until Saturday, Xinhua reported.
Jin Canrong, a professor of international studies at Renmin University of China, said the consecutive ROK-US joint drills are not helping ease tension. "China's strategy of negotiation will work when all sides take a step back first," he said.
Huang Youfu, director of the Institute of Korean Studies at Minzu University of China, said the possibility of getting all parties back to the negotiating table is increasing.
"Returning to the Six-Party Talks does not mean a victory or a loss for any party. It's just a start (of the long quest for peace)," he added.
Xinhua, Reuters and AP contributed to this story.