China again is calling for both Koreas to remain calm and exercise restraint, following an artillery exchange between the two sides earlier this week.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei Thursday issued Beijing's strongest statement yet on the recent military confrontation, stopping short of condemning either side.
Hong called on both Koreas to exercise restraint and to have a dialogue as soon as possible to avoid a recurrence of Tuesday's events.
In the most recent incident, North Korea hit a South Korean island with scores of artillery shells, setting homes ablaze. Four South Koreans were killed: two marines and two civilians. Seoul's military fired back, in one of the worst outbreaks of violence on the divided peninsula in decades.
Many other countries, led by the United States, have condemned Pyongyang for violence they say it began. Chinese officials expressed concern, but refrained from pointing fingers.
The Chinese spokesman stressed that Beijing regrets the loss of life and property.
Hong said China is concerned with how the situation is developing, and noted that the parties involved have "different stories about the causes of the incident."
Rreporters repeatedly asked the spokesman whether China thinks this an appropriate issue for the United Nations Security Council to discuss. He gave no direct answer, but said Beijing remains ready to work with relevant parties to bring about peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.
Chinese Health Minister Chen Zhu met North Korean leaders in Pyongyang, Wednesday. However, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi has postponed a trip to Seoul planned for this week, because of scheduling reasons.
China is North Korea's main ally. The United States and other countries have urged Beijing to do more to rein in North Korea, including pushing Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons programs. But Beijing says its influence in North Korea is limited and that it is seeking diplomatic ways to ease tensions.