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China, SKorea defense chiefs discuss nuclear test

BEIJING North Korea's surprise nuclear test led the agenda for a meeting of South Korean and Chinese defense chiefs Tuesday, South Korean officials said.

The North's underground blast is seen as severely straining relations between China and its defiant communist neighbor. Traditional allies for decades Chinese troops fought on the North's side during the 1950-53 Korean War China is still North Korea's biggest source of food, fuel aid and diplomatic support.

Over the last six years, China has hosted talks among the two Koreas, the U.S., Japan, and Russia aimed at dismantling Pyongyang's nuclear programs.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu on Tuesday repeated an earlier ministry statement saying Beijing "resolutely opposed" the nuclear test and urging Pyongyang to return to the negotiations, under which it had agreed to dismantle its atomic programs.

Ma declined to answer questions on the realistic likelihood of the six-nation talks resuming and whether Pyongyang appeared to be listening to Beijing's concerns.

Ahead of Monday's test, the North had already declared its withdrawal from the talks and said it was restarting its nuclear programs.

China's efforts have lately reaped little more than frustration, and Beijing's response to the North's test was bolder than its usual reaction. When North Korea launched a missile in April, drawing nearly universal condemnation, China instead urged calm on all sides stopping well short of denouncing the move.

Details on Beijing's previously scheduled security talks Tuesday with South Korea were not immediately known, although the South Korean Embassy confirmed Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee had arrived in Beijing for meetings with his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Liang Guanglie.

The two sides were likely to "try to come up with an agreement on ways to address the test," Cho Baek-sang, international policy director at the Ministry of National Defense in Seoul, was quoted as saying by South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

The press phone for China's Defense Ministry rang unanswered.

The North carried out Monday's test in defiance of the international community's opposition and its own commitments to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, China's foreign ministry said in a statement posted on its Web site.

The statement said Pyongyang should avoid taking actions liable to sharpen tensions.

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