China opposes US-SKorea military exercises

BEIJING, November 25, 2010 (AFP) - North Korea's key ally China said Thursday it opposed US-South Korea war games to be staged after Pyongyang's deadly artillery barrage, as Premier Wen Jiabao warned against "provocative" acts.

"We have taken note of relevant reports and express concern," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters when asked about the exercises, which are set to kick off in the Yellow Sea as a show of force on Sunday.

"We oppose any act that undermines peace and stability on the (Korean) peninsula."

Tensions are high in the region after North Korean artillery shelled a South Korean island, killing four people and prompting retaliatory fire from the South.

Premier Wen Jiabao said China was against "any provocative military acts" on the Korean peninsula and urged all sides to "show restraint", according to a Chinese foreign ministry statement released Thursday.

It was not clear whether he was referring to the North-South exchange of fire or the planned US-South Korean military exercises.

The United States and South Korea, which have both appealed to Beijing to use its influence to rein in its wayward ally, are planning a four-day naval show of force against North Korea that will include a US aircraft carrier.

China has previously come out strongly against such exercises in its backyard, saying they risk exacerbating tensions.

South Korea said Thursday it would seek cooperation from China and Russia over the issue.
Beijing, which is North Korea's closest ally and source of economic support, has so far refused to take sides, merely calling for "restraint" from all parties.

The South is weighing what support it will get from the two nations before deciding whether to refer Tuesday's attack to the UN Security Council, where China and Russia hold veto power as permanent council members.

Earlier this year, China blocked efforts by South Korea and other nations to secure UN condemnation of North Korea over the torpedoing of a South Korean naval ship that was blamed on Pyongyang and in which 46 sailors died.

Tuesday's shelling occurred a day after the disclosure that the North has an apparently working uranium enrichment plant -- giving it a potential second way to build atomic bombs in addition to its plutonium operation.

Wen called for the resumption of stalled six-nation disarmament talks that include China, the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia, without suggesting a timetable.

China has avoided joining world condemnation of North Korea for either the shelling or the reported nuclear plant.

Experts say Beijing wants to prop up the regime of Kim Jong-Il out of fear that its collapse could spark a  refugee influx to China.

It also wants to check US influence in the region, and fears that any future unified Korean peninsula would be dominated by the US-allied South, they say.

China also refrained from joining world condemnation of North Korea after it was blamed for a torpedo attack on South Korea's Cheonan naval ship in March.

Robert Shaw, associate researcher at California's James Martin Center for Non-proliferation Studies, said that even China's influence over North Korea is limited.

"China's clearly the dominant trading partner with North Korea, so there has to be some influence but it's really an unknown as to the degree of China's actual direct influence," he said.