BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi urged both North and South Korea to open talks and avoid steps that could inflame tensions on the peninsula, extending Beijing’s effort to contain confrontation on its doorstep.
Yang made the comments in a phone call with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on its website (www.mfa.gov.cn) on Sunday, when the United Nations Security Council is due to discuss the volatile standoff between North and South Korea.
Beijing has sought to avoid becoming embroiled in the bitter rift between its two neighbours, and Yang neither directly criticised Seoul’s plan to hold a live-fire military drill nor Pyongyang’s threat to retaliate if the drill goes ahead.
But the Chinese Foreign Minister warned that tensions on the Korean peninsula risked running out of control and shaking the entire region.
“The situation on the peninsula remains tense and there’s a risk of further deterioration and escalation,” Yang told Lavrov late on Saturday, according to the Foreign Ministry’s account.
“China resolutely opposes any actions that could inflame tensions and exacerbate the situation, and asks that both sides of the peninsula exercise calm and restraint and open up dialogue and contacts,” said Yang.
Less senior Chinese officials made similar calls on Saturday.
The South Korean military had planned the exercise for December 18-21 off the small island of Yeonpyeong, which was struck by a North Korean bombardment last month. But military officials quoted by the South’s Yonhap news agency said the drills were likely to be delayed by fog and wind.
China has long stood as North Korea’s only major ally and economic backer, and the United States and its allies have said Beijing must do more to rein in Pyongyang, which has threatened to strike back if the planned drills go ahead.
Yang’s comments hinted, however, that Beijing has little confidence that it can bring to heel North Korea.
China wanted to work with Russia to “strive to avoid the situation deteriorating out of control,” said Yang.
The U.N. Security Council called an emergency session for Sunday at 11 a.m. (1 p.m. EST) to discuss the tensions, council diplomats said on Saturday.
China and Russia are among the five permanent members of the Council, along with the United States, France and Britain.
Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Matthew Jones
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