UNITED NATIONS - China, backed by Russia, submitted its own draft UN Security Council statement on North Korea today, fearing a resolution imposing sanctions might be used to lay the groundwork for future military action.
But the United States, Britain and Japan opposed the statement as the Security Council put off council action to allow a high-level Chinese delegation to talk to Pyongyang.
China's UN ambassador, Wang Guangya, told reporters after another round of council consultations that a resolution branding North Korea a threat to international peace and security "could be used by member states to take actions which could make the situation even worse."
Asked if he meant military force, Wang said, "certainly."
Wang, whose country has veto power on the council, earlier indicated he could support a "modified resolution" but he did not elaborate, and instead produced the draft statement. China's draft contains nearly all the elements of a rival resolution drafted by Japan but is not legally binding.
The Japanese resolution "decides" that UN member states should prevent missile-related items from being transferred to North Korea, whereas China's statement "calls upon" barring such materials from Pyongyang.
Japan's resolution also invokes Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which makes it mandatory for all UN members and in certain circumstances lays the groundwork for military force.
International attention turned on Beijing to use its influence with North Korea to rein in its arms program, which has caused special concern because of its development of nuclear weapons.
Chinese Vice Premier Hui Liangyu, expressing support for the fellow Communist state, began a six-day visit to Pyongyang scheduled before the North Koreans set off an international uproar by test-firing seven missiles last week.
"The traditional friendship between China and North Korea has withstood the tests of history and its tribulations," Hui said in a speech in Pyongyang, according to Xinhua news agency.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she hoped Beijing could persuade North Korea to return to the six-party talks on its nuclear program, which include North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
The United States also wants the reclusive communist nation to return to a moratorium on its missile launches.
"We do think that the Chinese mission to North Korea has some promise and we would like to let that play out," Rice told reporters in Washington.
North Korea launched at least six missiles on Thursday and fired off a seventh some 12 hours later. The missiles included a long-range Taepodong-2, which flew for less than a minute and fell into the sea west of Japan.
US Ambassador John Bolton told reporters no vote had been scheduled on Japan's resolution, "We will reassess on a daily basis whether to proceed."
He called China's draft statement "manifestly insufficient. Britain's UN Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry added, "The text we were offered as an alternative didn't really do the job."
But China's Wang said that while Beijing objected to North Korea's actions, the main controversy was a "lack of confidence among the parties," with North Korea insisting others had not lived up to their commitments either.
And he asked council members to show "some flexibility."
France said progress had been made in trying to reach a "strong acceptable" council statement.
However, its UN Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere said, "I don't think we have reached a point where we could say that, for France, it is enough."
Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the Chinese draft "provides an excellent basis for sending a strong signal to Pyongyang."
"We all believe that what they did was wrong," Churkin said, adding "There are no international obligations which would ban countries from launching their missiles."
Over the weekend, Beijing's Foreign Ministry telephoned all Security Council members in what one council member said was "heavy lobbying" against a vote on the resolution and the text in general.
Japan's resolution would leave it to individual governments to take measures to carry out the bans and does not create a council sanctions committee to monitor the sanctions.
The draft asks member states to take "those steps necessary" to prevent North Korea from receiving from missile related funds or exporting and importing materials, goods and technology used in missiles and weapons of mass destruction.