BEIJING — China quickened its diplomatic efforts to ease tensions between North and South Korea, calling for an emergency meeting of envoys to North Korean nuclear disarmament talks.
Chinese envoy Wu Dawei said chief negotiators to the six-nation talks are being asked to come to Beijing in early December for the emergency session "to exchange views on major issues of concern to the parties at present.
"I want to stress that a series of complicated factors have recently emerged on the Korean peninsula," Wu said Sunday in a statement to reporters. "The international community, particularly the members of the six-party talks, is deeply concerned."
The talks would bring together the main regional powers — the United States, Japan and Russia as well as China and the two Koreas — that have tried fitfully for seven years to persuade North Korea to relinquish its nuclear programs.
Wu's appeal is China's most public diplomatic intervention since its ally North Korea pummeled a South Korean island with an artillery barrage Tuesday. At first slow to react, Beijing has been under pressure by the United States to use its historically strong relations with North Korea to defuse the crisis.
Sen. John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, on Sunday criticized China for not doing more to rein in North Korea.
"They could bring the North Korean economy to its knees if they wanted to," McCain said during an interview with CNN. "And I cannot believe that the Chinese should, in a mature fashion, not find it in their interest to restrain North Korea. So far, they are not."
South Korea's president today took responsibility for failing to protect South Koreans from the deadly attack last week, even as he vowed that the North would face consequences for future aggression.
Lee Myung-bak didn't offer specifics about those consequences nor did he say what actions South Korea will take in response to the artillery barrage on Yeonpyeong Island that killed four, including two civilians. "I feel deeply responsible for failing to protect my people's lives and property," Lee said.
As Lee spoke, a nuclear-powered U.S. supercarrier and a South Korean destroyer participated in joint military exercises that were a united show of force aimed at the North.
North Korea threatened another "merciless" attack, as South Korean protesters begged Lee to find a way to restore peace.
State Councilor Dai Bingguo, China's highest-level foreign policy official, met Sunday with Lee in Seoul, and later spoke by telephone with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.