World

China, amid growing North Korea threat, calls for renewed nuclear talks

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang called Wednesday for all parties to return to talks amid rising tensions over North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson set to visit China, South Korea and Japan as tensions rise

China's Premier Li Keqiang, during a news conference Wednesday in Beijing, is looking for 'common sense' to prevail. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang called Wednesday for all parties to return to talks amid rising tensions over North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs.

Li said China was a strong supporter of UN resolutions aimed at nudging the North toward ending its programs, and had "fully complied" with economic sanctions on Pyongyang.

He acknowledged the rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula and northeast Asia in general, saying any conflict would be disastrous for all sides.

"So what we hope is that all the parties concerned will work together to deescalate the situation, get issues back on the track of dialogue and work together to find proper solutions," Li said at his annual news conference held on the final day of the annual legislative session.

China is Pyongyang's most important diplomatic ally and economic partner, and has been under pressure from the U.S. to use its influence to rein in actions by the North seen as provocative.

China followed the latest round of missile launches by the North last month by suspending imports of North Korean coal, depriving Kim Jong-un's regime of a crucial source of foreign currency.

China has long urged a resumption of six-nation denuclearization talks on hold since North Korea withdrew from them in 2009.

Hoping to kick-start discussions, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi last week suggested that North Korea might suspend its nuclear and missile activities in exchange for a halt in joint U.S.-South Korea military drills.

The U.S. swiftly dismissed the proposal and Li did not repeat it.

Joint exercises in full swing

However, the premier did indicate that China was growing weary of the constant tensions and threats of conflict surrounding its formerly close communist neighbour.

"It's just common sense that no one wants to see chaos on his doorstep," he said.

The comments come ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's trip to China and a day after the U.S. and South Korean military chiefs warned that North Korea could "conduct provocative actions" in response to large-scale joint drills between the two countries.

A U.S. F18 fighter jet lands on the deck of U.S. aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson during an annual joint military exercise Tuesday between South Korea and U.S., in the East Sea, South Korea. (Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)

"The chairmen recognized the possibility that North Korea could conduct provocative actions during the Key Resolve/Foal Eagle exercise, or in connection with North Korean major political events in April," a statement from Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford's office said, referring to the U.S.-South Korean military exercises.

The statement said the two military leaders "discussed response options" during a call that lasted about 30 minutes.

South Korean and U.S. troops began the large-scale joint drills, which are billed as defensive in nature, on March 1. The exercise last year involved about 17,000 American troops and more than 300,000 South Koreans.

South Korea has said this year's exercise would be of a similar scale.

The United States has also started to deploy "Gray Eagle" attack drones to South Korea.

With files from Reuters

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