BEIJING (AP) – China’s president on Tuesday urged North Korea to refrain from increasing tensions over its nuclear program and to return to disarmament talks as diplomats worked to forestall U.N. sanctions against the regime.

America’s top nuclear envoy made an unscheduled trip to China, saying efforts to resolve the crisis have reached a crucial point. A delegation from North Korea also came to Beijing.

China’s Foreign Ministry criticized a Japanese proposal that demands the North stop developing, testing and selling ballistic missiles as “an overreaction.”

Cabinet-level talks between North and South Korea, meanwhile, kicked off with the South saying Pyongyang’s missile tests were destabilizing the region.

Chinese President Hu Jintao told the visiting vice president of the North’s parliament, Yang Hyong Sop: “We are against any actions that will aggravate the situation. We hope that relevant parties will do more things conducive to the peace and stability of the peninsula,” according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Hu said Beijing is “seriously concerned” and called for progress in stalled six-nation talks over the North’s nuclear program.

The warning by Hu, who rarely speaks publicly about North Korea, represented an unusually firm stance by Beijing and appeared to reflect growing frustration with its ally.

Pyongyang ignited the furor a week ago by test-firing seven missiles, including a long-range Taepodong-2 potentially capable of hitting the United States. The weapons, which landed in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, created a major new challenge to international efforts to defuse the North’s nuclear threat.

The tough talk from Hu follows an agreement by U.N. Security Council members to delay a vote on a Japanese proposal to sanction the North over the missile tests. The extra time was allowed to give China, the isolated regime’s main ally and aid donor, a chance to persuade Pyongyang to refrain from more launches. China has told other Security Council members it would veto this Japanese-proposed resolution if it comes to a vote, U.N. diplomats said Tuesday.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said adoption of the proposal “will cause an escalation of tensions and further intensify the problem … and undermine efforts to resume the six-party talks.”

U.S. envoy Christopher Hill said Washington was counting on Beijing to take the lead in lobbying the North to stop missile tests and return to six-party nuclear talks, which include both Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.

“Obviously, we’re in a rather crucial period,” Hill told reporters at the Beijing airport. “The Chinese government has an important diplomatic mission going on and so we want to be in close consultation.”

Hill’s visit follows talks in Tokyo with Japanese officials as part of an Asian tour to coordinate a response to the missile tests. He said he added a second stop in Beijing to gauge the progress made by Chinese diplomats with Pyongyang.

Washington wants North Korea to resume a moratorium on ballistic missile launches, return to stalled six-party talks over its nuclear program and implement a joint statement reached at the talks last September.

Japan shares the U.S. concerns and has played a lead role in seeking U.N. sanctions against North Korea. The Japanese have agreed to give diplomacy more time, but a high-ranking official suggested Tokyo is considering a pre-emptive strike against the North’s missile bases.

South Korean President Roo Moo-hyun told lawmakers the South “has continuously tried to eliminate use of force of any kind on the Korean Peninsula.”

“But I am concerned that the latest North Korea missile launches and Japan’s comment on a pre-emptive attack may create obstacles to these efforts,” he said.

Hill said he had no plans to meet with the North Koreans, whose government has refused to return to the talks until Washington lifts sanctions meant to punish the North for money laundering and other offenses.

The North dismissed the hubbub over the missiles and accused Washington of being the biggest threat to world peace.

“In crying over the ‘missile threat,’ the U.S. seeks to conceal its sinister intention and, behind the curtain, create favorable climate and condition for implementing its strategy of world supremacy,” North Korea’s state news agency KCNA said.

The North Korean envoy, Yang, was beginning a visit to Beijing to mark the 45th anniversary of a friendship treaty between China and North Korea. A Chinese delegation including Beijing’s chief nuclear negotiator, Wu Dawei, was in Pyongyang on a reciprocal visit.

At a dinner in Busan, South Korea, envoy Lee Jong-seok told the North’s delegation that the missile tests were “making the situation in the region unstable and is also affecting South-North relations.”

North Korea’s chief delegate Kwon Ho Ung said the Koreans should stick together. “No matter how the situation changes and the environment becomes different, both the North and the South … should go to the end on the path” of reconciliation, Kwon said.

Associated Press writers Kwang-tae Kim in Seoul, Jae-soon Chang in Busan, South Korea, and Kana Inagaki in Tokyo contributed to this report.

AP-ES-07-11-06 2019EDT

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