BEIJING - Beijing on Thursday reiterated its support for talks between the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) after Seoul signaled a desire to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
"Talks and negotiations are the only correct and effective approach to solve issues on the Korean Peninsula and realize its long-term peace and stability," said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu at a regular news conference.
Jiang made the remarks when commenting on the ROK President Lee Myung-bak's call for revived international talks to resolve the problem of the DPRK a day earlier, apparently softening his stance.
Jiang said China has been consistent in seeking solutions to the problems between the ROK and DPRK by dialogues and consultations, so as to improve their relations gradually and realize reconciliation and cooperation.
"We sincerely support the two sides (in) conducting good contacts and dialogues," Jiang said.
On Wednesday, Lee said the ROK has "no choice but to resolve the problem of dismantling North Korea's (DPRK) nuclear program diplomatically through the Six-Party Talks", as he received a 2011 policy report from the ROK's foreign ministry.
Beijing proposed an emergency meeting among the heads of the delegations to the Six-Party Talks shortly after the Nov 23 exchange of artillery fire. The talks involve the ROK, the DPRK, China, the United States, Russia and Japan.
The DPRK's immediate threat to the ROK has grown, with 20,000 more special warfare troops deployed near their border along with 200 new tanks, a defense white paper published by the ROK said on Thursday.
The size of the DPRK's military remained steady from two years ago at 1.19 million troops, the defense ministry paper said, but its "asymmetrical threat" grew with Pyongyang's continued pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.
The ROK has reinstated its "enemy" designation for the DPRK after having dropped it in 2000, when the two countries held the first of only two summit meetings between their leaders that led to warmer ties and the start of commercial exchange.
"In view of recent security conditions, we specified the North's (DPRK) regime and its military as our enemy," ROK Defence Ministry policy planning chief Chang Kwang-il said.
The DPRK is believed to have 200 more tanks than previously identified, at 4,100 units, but the scale of its artillery firepower remained roughly equal to two years ago, the white paper said.
Huang Youfu, director of the Institute of Korean Studies at the Minzu University of China, said China's continuous diplomatic efforts are the main reason the ROK has softened its voice.
"Military drills are only a means to vent anger, but cannot practically solve problems," said Huang. "The ROK has showcased its toughness and now comes the time to talk for a real solution."
Huang said Lee's call for reviving the talks gives hope for a solution in the next year.
Zhang Liangui, a professor with the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, however, interpreted Lee's remarks as nothing new or surprising but more of a gesture to please China.
Lee's speech came one day after China and Russia said they would never allow any war on the Korean Peninsula, or lingering tensions between the ROK and the DPRK.
Zhang said more mingled diplomatic conflicts and military confrontations on the Korean Peninsula over the next year - and that "the possibility of a war at certain scale between the ROK and DPRK cannot be ruled out".
Agencies contributed to this story.