China and other Asian powers are calling for diplomacy and patience to solve the dispute over North Korea's nuclear programs. Officials in Beijing, Tokyo, and Seoul spoke out after the U.N. nuclear agency voted to refer the issue to the Security Council - a step that could lead to sanctions.
China is continuing to insist that the North Korean nuclear crisis be settled through direct dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington.
Thursday in Beijing, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said more time is needed for diplomacy.
Ms. Zhang said this is "not the proper time" for the Security Council to be involved in the nuclear dispute, as it will only complicate the issue.
The criticism comes one day after China vote with 32 other members of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna Wednesday to take North Korea's nuclear violations to the Council.
Ms. Zhang dismissed assertions that China was flip-flopping on the issue. She said China supported the IAEA measure because it stresses the importance of a peaceful resolution through dialogue.
Moving the dispute to the Security Council is important because the Council has the power to impose sanctions or authorize military action against North Korea for violating nuclear nonproliferation agreements.
Japan and South Korea were more supportive Thursday, saying they back the move and called on Pyongyang to give up its nuclear ambitions. But both nations also stressed sanctions should not be considered until more time is given to diplomatic efforts.
Pyongyang says it would consider any U.N. sanctions to be an act of war.
There have been dozens of diplomatic consultations since the problem first surfaced in October with U.S. accusations that North Korea had a covert nuclear weapons program.
North Korea has since openly flouted international non-proliferation agreements, including reopening its main nuclear facility and expelling U.N. monitors.
The IAEA said Wednesday, it was influenced in its decision by the fact that North Korea withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in January, setting a dangerous precedent.
None of the high level diplomatic missions have persuaded North Korea to halt its nuclear activities or accept multilateral mediation.
Pyongyang has consistently demanded direct talks only with the United States after formal security guarantees against an American attack.
The United States has made clear it is willing to talk about how North Korea plans to return to nuclear non-proliferation compliance. But Washington says Pyongyang does not get to dictate the terms since it is the country violating international agreements and threatening global security.