BEIJING, Nov 23 (Reuters) - China expressed concern about reports that North Korea had shelled a South Korean island on Tuesday in the latest escalation of tensions between the two sides of the Korean peninsula.
A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Hong Lei, also told a news conference that both sides of the Korean peninsula should "do more to contribute to peace", and said it was imperative to return to six-party talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.
China is North Korea's only major ally, and its economic and diplomatic support have been important to shoring up its otherwise isolated neighbour, whose leader Kim Jong-il visited China twice this year to strengthen ties.
But those ties have become a sore-point with Washington after revelations that North Korea appears to have made big steps towards enriching uranium. A U.S. envoy on the issue, Stephen Bosworth, arrived in Beijing on Tuesday.