China helped lower tensions with North Korea: US

US has often expressed impatience with China over its approach to N Korea.

Washington: US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has said China has helped ease a crisis on the Korean peninsula after Pyongyang shelled a South Korean island.

"We recognise that China played a constructive role in lessening tensions on the peninsula in the latter part of last year," Gates told reporters late Saturday aboard his plane before a visit to Beijing.

During his three days of meetings in China, Gates said he planned to discuss with top officials how to move North Korea towards a less aggressive stance.

"Speaking in broad terms, I think one of our goals is to see if we can get out ahead of these periodic provocations by the North Koreans and bring greater stability to the peninsula," he said.

"We have a mutual interest in that."

US officials have often expressed impatience with China over its approach to its North Korean allies, urging Beijing to use its leverage with Pyongyang.

North Korea on Saturday took fresh steps to mend ties with the South, suggesting talks within weeks and reopening an office to encourage cooperation on the fractured peninsula.

Tensions spiked after the North shelled the South`s frontline Yeonpyeong island on November 23, killing four people.

Gates said he expected diplomacy towards North Korea to be a key focus of his talks starting on Monday in Beijing, as well for President Hu Jintao`s visit to Washington in a week.

The United States wanted to discuss "how we can work together to prevent further provocations, bring greater stability and see if we can move forward with North Korean denuclearisation”, he said.

Gates heads to Tokyo on Wednesday and Seoul on Friday with North Korea expected to dominate his meetings.

Bureau Report