Tensions remained high on the Korean Peninsula in the wake of the
artillery duel between North and South Korea, amid signs that
China was gearing up its diplomacy to try to ease the atmosphere.
South Korean and US forces Sunday went ahead with major naval
manoeuvres in the Yellow Sea, adding to the security jitters in
the region after the artillery exchange which left four South
Koreans dead on Yeonpyeong Island near the two countries' disputed
Amid the tensions, China sent a diplomat to Seoul to meet with top
South Korean leaders, and also on Sunday proposed an emergency
meeting of six-party talks in early December.
Special envoy for Korea Wu Dawei told journalists that Beijing was
proposing that chief negotiators from North and South Korea, the
US, China, Japan and Russia should meet early December in Beijing.
But he made it clear that the talks would not be a resumption of
the six-party dialogue, focussed on the dismantling of North
Korea's nuclear programme, which stalled in April 2009.
Soon after the proposal, Seoul reacted coolly to the idea, with
the foreign ministry saying it had to be examined "very carefully"
and blaming Pyongyang for a series of provocations which had
impacted negatively on the region.
Before such talks could resume, Pyongyang had to undertake
concrete steps towards dismantling its nuclear programme, Seoul
"We again urge North Korea to show its denuclearization
willingness through action," the ministry said.
Previously in Seoul, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak asked
China to take a "fair and responsible" attitude toward aggressive
actions by North Korea that have heightened the risk of war.
Lee conveyed the message to Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo,
who arrived in Seoul as a special envoy of President Hu Jintao and
Premier Wen Jiabao, Yonhap News Agency reported.
Lee requested that "China act in a fairer and more responsible way
in dealing with South-North Korea relations and contribute to
peace on the Korean Peninsula", presidential spokesman Hong Sang-pyo
Dai expressed condolences from China's leaders over the loss of
lives in the North's attack on Yeonpyeong Nov 23.
China has stopped short of condemning the North's attack, and
instead accused Washington and Seoul of provoking tensions with
the joint exercises. But Beijing was also working behind the
scenes to defuse the situation.
Yonhap said that while China has by far the most political and
economic leverage over its communist ally, some analysts see
Beijing's influence waning as Pyongyang takes increasing harder
nuclear and military positions.
In a related development, Chinese state media said a senior North
Korean official would visit China Tuesday.
Choe Tae Bok, chairman of North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly,
will make the five-day visit at the invitation of Wu Bangguo,
chairman of China's legislature, Xinhua news agency reported.
Amid the overall jitters, South Korea's military briefly ordered
civilians on a border island into bomb shelters after hearing
sounds of artillery from the North.
The military lifted the emergency order on Yeonpyeong after
determining that the sounds came from a training ground in North
Korea, rather than from coastline batteries, Yonhap reported.
Yonhap reported that North Korea also deployed surface-to-air
missiles to its west coast as the US-South Korean naval exercises
"(The missiles) appear to be targeting our fighter jets that fly
near the Northern Limit Line," the agency quoted a source who
requested anonymity, referring to the maritime border.
Most of the 1,700 residents have left the island, but about two
dozen civilians remained, Yonhap said.
South Korea's military general staff said that the joint four-day
exercises were intended to send a strong signal to communist North
Korea to back down.
Ten warships are taking part, including the nuclear-powered
aircraft carrier USS George Washington.
The manoeuvres are taking place away from the disputed maritime
border between South and North Korea, in an area near the coastal
city of Taean, about 150 km south of Seoul.