In its latest attempt at diplomacy to counter rising aggression on the Korean Peninsula, China Sunday called on envoys from all nations of the Six-Party Talks to hold an emergency meeting early next month.
Meanwhile, South Korea and the United States began a four-day naval exercise amid Pyongyang's warnings of a "merciless counterattack" and objections from Beijing.
Chinese envoy for Korean Peninsula affairs Wu Dawei told reporters in Beijing Sunday that China had proposed emergency consultations among chief negotiators to the Six-Party Talks in Beijing in early December to "exchange views on major issues of concern to the parties at present." However, he did not give specific details.
"A series of complicated factors have recently emerged on the Korean Peninsula. The international community, particularly the members of the Six-Party Talks, are deeply concerned," Wu said.
However, Wu said that the consultations would not be considered a restart of the Six- Party Talks on denuclearization, which group China, North Korea, the US, South Korea, Russia and Japan.
Maintaining its previously stated stance, Seoul's presidential office responded that it was not the right time for such a move, the Guardian reported.
Japan will closely coordinate with Seoul and Washington in its response to China's proposal, according to the AP.
North Korea abruptly withdrew from the Six-Party Talks in April 2009 after the United Nations Security Council condemned a rocket launch by Pyongyang.
Wu's appeal came after the US and South Korea begun pre-planned maneuvers Sunday off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula, less than a week after the two Koreas exchanged artillery barrages, bringing the peninsula closer to war than it has been in decades.
A statement from the US Forces Korea said the maneuvers were meant to show a "commitment to regional stability through deterrence."
North Korea, which vowed Saturday to make a "merciless counter-attack" against any intrusion into its territorial waters, has deployed SA-2 surface-to-air missiles to its west coast near the Yellow Sea border with South Korea, unnamed South Korea officials were quoted as telling the Yonghap News Agency Sunday.
The two countries, which are technically at war since their conflict ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty, traded accusations of provocation.
The world has looked to China, particularly in the last week, awaiting its response to the artillery attacks. Analysts said the tug of war involving the two Koreas and the US has placed China in a position where it is both seeking to end the crisis and bearing the brunt of the responsibility.
Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo met with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak Sunday and said it opposed any act that "that harmed the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula."
Lee emphasized the importance of China's role in trying to rein in North Korea and called for China to take a firm stance on North Korea for its attack on Yeonpyeong Island, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
On Friday, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi met with Chi Jae-ryong, North Korea's ambassador to China, and held a phone conversation with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and ROK Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan.
Choi Choon-heum, senior researcher with the Korea Institute for National Unification, said "China is expected to exert its influence over the North, which I believe will make a breakthrough in the current situation."
Piao Jianyi, a professor on Korean affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said, "Wu's announcement helped reverse China's passive stance to an active one."
"The emergency consultations are likely to take more than one month and cover issues involving nuclear disarmament, shelling between the two Koreas, and the resumption of the Six-Party Talks," he said.
"Chinese President Hu Jintao will visit the US. And the tensions on the peninsula will be likely eased if China and the US reach a consensus," he said. "In the face of the complicated situation on the peninsula, China has limited options beyond talking to North Korea, South Korea and the US."
Zhang Liangui, an expert on North Korea at the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, said that the attempt to hold the Six-Party Talks made by China might be ineffective, as South Korea and the US are most likely to refuse to take part in the meetings under the intense circumstances.
"The situation is not yet out of control," Zhang said. However, he pointed out that China's role in balancing the situation would be critical in keeping the situation from worsening.