China has called for an emergency meeting of key nations amid high tension in Korea over the North’s deadly shelling of a Southern island.
It proposed that members of the six nations that have been taking part in talks on North Korean nuclear disarmament should meet in December.
The two Koreas, the US, China, Japan and Russia are involved in the talks.
South Korea quickly said it was not interested in formally resuming talks on nuclear disarmament.
Tension remains high on the peninsula, with the US and South Korea undertaking joint military exercises the North has denounced as a provocation.
The six-party North Korea talks have been stalled since April 2009, and South Korea and the US say they should not resume until the North has made a genuine offer on halting its nuclear programme.
Some analysts think North Korea is trying to raise tensions in order to strengthen its negotiating position and force a resumption of the talks.
Wu Dawei, China’s representative to the talks, said on Sunday: “The Chinese side, after careful study, proposes to have emergency consultations among the heads of delegation to the six-party talks in early December in Beijing to exchange views on major issues of concern to the parties at present.”
He said this was not a proposal to resume formally the six-nation negotiations.
Mr Wu said “complicated factors” had arisen on the peninsula, adding: “The international community, particularly the members of the six-party talks, is deeply concerned.”
However, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said President Lee Myung-bak had told visiting senior Chinese foreign policy adviser Dai Bingguo that Seoul was not interested in the early resumption of the six-party talks as it was more urgent to deal with Pyongyang’s belligerence.
Responding to China’s call, Japan’s Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama said that Tokyo would “deal with the issue cautiously while cooperating with South Korea and the United States”.
The Korea crisis began when the North launched a sudden barrage of shells at Yeonpyeong island, close to the maritime border between the two countries, on Tuesday.
Two South Korean civilians and two marines were killed, sparking the resignation of the South’s defence minister and angry protests in the South.
Pyongyang insists it was provoked into the shelling by military exercises, which were being carried out by the South close to Yeonpyeong.
The US and South Korea on Sunday began new, pre-arranged military exercises in the Yellow Sea, about 125km (77 miles) south of the disputed maritime border between the two Koreas.
The aircraft carrier the USS George Washington and four other US navy vessels are being joined by South Korean destroyers, patrol vessels, frigates, support ships and anti-submarine aircraft.
Shortly after the exercises began, North Korea again vowed to hit back if its waters were violated.
“We will deliver a brutal military blow on any provocation which violates our territorial waters,” the North’s state-controlled KCNA news agency said.
Yonhap reported that Pyongyang had placed surface-to-surface missiles on launch pads in the Yellow Sea and had also moved surface-to-air missiles to frontline areas, but the South’s defence ministry could not confirm the deployment.
Residents of Yeonpyeong were ordered to shelter in bunkers when artillery fire was heard on Sunday, but the order was lifted 40 minutes later. Only about 20 of the 1,700 residents remain on the island.
The South Korean defence ministry has also now instructed journalists to leave by the end of Sunday as it cannot guarantee their safety.
“At this stage, it is unpredictable what kind of a provocative action North Korea will take using the South Korean-US joint drills as a justification,” the ministry said.
Yonhap also reported that South Korean troops on Sunday accidentally fired an artillery round into the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that divides the nations. Seoul quickly sent the North a message saying it was an accident, the news agency said.
Earlier, Mr Dai had told President Lee that Beijing would try to prevent the situation deteriorating any further.
Mr Lee had urged China to take what he called a more fair and responsible position on the relationship between the two Koreas.
The chairman of North Korea’s parliament, an official known to be a close confidant of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, has been invited to visit Beijing next week.