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China's foreign minister said on Sunday new U.N. Security Council sanctions on North Korea were the right response to a series of missile tests, but dialogue was vital to resolve a complex and sensitive issue, now at a "critical juncture".
Wang Yi, in what he described as "very thorough" bilateral talks on Sunday with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho at a regional meeting in Manila, said he had advised him to calmly assess the U.N. resolutions and not carry out nuclear tests that would only stoke tensions.
The U.N. Security Council on Saturday unanimously imposed the new sanctions on Pyongyang over its two July intercontinental ballistic missile tests, a move that could slash North Korea's $3 billion annual export revenue by a third.
Wang said diplomatic and peaceful means were now necessary to avoid tensions and an escalation of the crisis.
"We call on all sides to take a responsible attitude when making judgements and taking actions," Wang told reporters.
"We cannot do one and neglect the other. Sanctions are needed but sanctions are not the final goal," Wang said.
North Korea has been under U.N. sanctions since 2006. The new measures were a response to five nuclear tests and four long-range missile launches.
The United States, which has long maintained that China has not done enough to rein in North Korea, negotiated with China for a month on the new resolution before putting it to the Security Council.
It bans North Korean exports of coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood and prohibits countries from hiring additional North Korean labourers. It also bars new joint ventures with North Korea.
The standoff is expected to dominate Monday's ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which gathers 27 foreign ministers, including former participants in the halted six-party talks - Russia, Japan, the United States, China and North and South Korea.
Wang's meeting with North Korea's Ri started off cordially, with Ri smiling as the two shook hands. Wang placed his hand on Ri's shoulder as the two entered a meeting room.
"The Chinese side urged the North Korean side to calmly handle the resolutions ... and to not do anything unbeneficial towards the international community such as a nuclear test," Wang said.
He declined to say what Ri had told him.
Wang earlier said it was important that Ri was attending the Manila meetings so he could hear "suggestions" and present his own views.
Wang accepted that a resumption of six-party talks would not be easy, but said it was the right direction.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha expressed hope that she could meet Ri. She met U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Sunday and both described as a "good outcome" the passing of the tougher U.N. sanctions.
In Kang's later meeting with Wang, however, China expressed doubts about the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system's ability to protect South Korea.
Wang said THAAD could not block the North's intercontinental missiles and added: "South Korea's security cannot be built on a foundation of China not being secure."
Tillerson held talks for over an hour with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, who said he believed his U.S. colleagues were ready to continue dialogue, despite tensions over new sanctions on Moscow.
Tillerson also met his Chinese counterpart, who said they had "specific and meaningful" talks about North Korea and agreed that the new resolutions should be a means of returning to
Wang also told Tillerson that "blindly" using sanctions is not a solution to the Korean peninsula issue and hoped the United States would seriously consider China's proposed "dual suspension" of military drills in the South and missile tests in the North.
But dialogue should not be a priority, according to a Japan foreign ministry spokesman, who applauded the tougher sanctions and said it was now time for Japan and its allies to apply more
pressure on North Korea.
Susan Thornton, acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said China's support for sanctions showed it recognised the gravity of the situation, but it was incumbent on Beijing to ensure they were implemented.
Separately, China and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Sunday adopted a framework for drafting a code of conduct to prevent disputes in the South China Sea.
ASEAN also broke the deadlock over how to address disputes with China in its customary communique, which was delayed by internal disagreement. The agreed text called for militarisation to be avoided and noted concern about island-building.
The South China Sea has long been the most divisive issue within ASEAN, with China's influence looming large. Beijing is extremely sensitive about ASEAN mentioning its expansion of its defence capabilities on its artificial islands.