BEIJING — China's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday a recent visit to North Korea by the country's top diplomat marks a significant effort by Beijing to tamp down regional tensions, in an apparent attempt to show it is responding to international calls to rein in its long-standing ally.
During Dai Bingguo's two-day trip last week, both sides reaffirmed the need to avoid further escalations, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said.
Tensions spiked in the region following a North Korean artillery attack on a South Korean island last month that killed four people.
"The two sides believe that parties should keep calm and exercise restraint, take a responsible attitude to avoid further escalation of tensions, and play a constructive role in safeguarding peace and stability on the peninsula," Jiang told reporters at a regularly scheduled news conference.
Jiang also repeated calls for emergency consultations between North Korea and the five countries taking part in long-stalled nuclear disarmament talks.
China has come under growing pressure from the U.S. and others to leverage its influence as North Korea's most important ally to mitigate Pyongyang's behavior. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg was set to visit China starting Wednesday for further talks on the issue.
Beijing, which provides crucial food and fuel aid to Pyongyang, has responded that it won't pressure the North in a way that could destabilize it, fearing the collapse of the regime and a flood of refugees across the border into northeastern China. Beijing, which fought on the North's side in the 1950-53 Korean War, is also wary of the unification of the Korean peninsula under a pro-U.S. southern-based government.
Jiang said North Korea took a "positive attitude" toward China's proposal for emergency talks, but other participants remain cool to the idea of renewed consultations between the six countries.
In Seoul, Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan reiterated Tuesday South Korea's position that North Korea must first take concrete steps toward denuclearization before six-party talks can resume.
"I would say that our previous stance remains unchanged," Kim told reporters. "I have repeatedly said that our government is not opposing talks themselves but now is not the right time (to resume the six-party talks) in principle."
Top diplomats from the United States, Japan and South Korea met last week in Washington and issued a statement that they would not resume nuclear negotiations with North Korea until it stops its "provocative and belligerent" behavior and takes concrete steps to roll back its nuclear arms program.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, meanwhile, leaves the United States for North Korea on Tuesday, making a brief stop in Beijing on Thursday. Richardson, who has often acted as a diplomatic troubleshooter, has made regular visits to North Korea and has also hosted North Korean officials in New Mexico.
Later Tuesday, North Korea said it agreed with Russia to work together to foster peace on the Korean peninsula through bilateral and multilateral negotiations, including six-nation talks.
The agreement was reached during a Monday meeting between foreign ministers of the two countries, Pyongyang's Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
Associated Press writer Hyung-Jin Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.