China says told North Korea does not want to see tensions rise

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has told North Korea it does not want to see anything happen that could further raise tensions, China’s foreign minister was quoted as saying on Friday, after Pyongyang announced plans to launch a satellite soon.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during a ceremony to award party and state commendations to nuclear scientists, technicians, soldier-builders, workers and officials for their contribution to what North Korea said was a succesful hydrogen bomb test, at the meeting hall of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on January 13, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA

North Korea has said it has a sovereign right to pursue a space program, although the United States and other governments suspect such rocket launches are actually missile tests and have called for Pyongyang to abandon the launch plans.

The North was believed to be making preparations for a test launch of a long-range rocket, U.S. officials have said, after activity at its test site was observed by satellite. Pyongyang told U.N. agencies on Tuesday it planned to launch a satellite between Feb. 8 and 25.

Tension had already risen in East Asia last month after North Korea’s fourth nuclear test, this time of what it said was a hydrogen bomb.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said it was natural that Beijing had sent its special envoy for the nuclear issue, Wu Dawei, to North Korea in what he described as “a serious situation”. He said China needed contacts “with all parties”, mentioning the United States, South Korea and Russia.

“At the same time, we also need to have necessary contacts with the North Korea side, to listen to their opinions,” Wang told Hong Kong’s Phoenix Television in London after Wu had returned from North Korea.

“Of course, an important point is to express China’s clear position to North Korea. We don’t want to see anything happen that could cause further tensions,” he said.

“We hope all sides, including North Korea, can meet each other halfway, and should work hard together to push the North Korean nuclear issue onto the track of a negotiated resolution.”

China is isolated North Korea’s most important diplomatic and economic supporter, but Beijing has been angered by Pyongyang’s nuclear program and signed up to numerous rounds of stringent United Nations sanctions.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Wang agreed last week on the need for a significant new U.N. Security Council resolution against the North, but there were few signs of progress on agreeing on the details.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Paul Tait