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Japan urges China to help keep North Korea in check

By Kiyoshi Takenaka

BEIJING (Reuters) - Japan urged China on Monday to shoulder a big role in ensuring North Korea avoids volatility after the death of its leader, Kim Jong-il.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda also urged Chinese President Hu Jintao to share information about developments in North Korea, where the succession of Kim's youngest son, Kim Jong-un, has fanned speculation about who will really control the secretive one-party state and its nuclear program.

"It is important that we will not let the death of the chairman of the National Defense Commission Kim have a negative impact on the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula," Noda was quoted by a Japanese official as telling Hu while on a visit to in Beijing.

Kim Jong-il's many positions included head of the important military commission.

"Under these circumstance, the role of China, which is the chair country of the six-party talks and has a big influence on North Korea, is extremely important," said Noda, according to the official who briefed reporters but declined to be identified.

The so-called six-party talks involve the two Koreas, China, Japan, the United States and Russia and are aimed at getting North Korea to give up its efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

The Japanese prime minister is the first regional leader to visit China since Kim Jong-il's death was announced a week ago.

China is the North's only major ally and the North has long relied on China for diplomatic and economic support.

Chinese state news agency Xinhua said Hu told Noda that it was in the interests of all sides to maintain stability on the Korean peninsula.

"China is ready to make joint efforts with all relevant parties, including Japan, to maintain peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and to achieve lasting peace, security and order on the peninsula and (in) northeast Asia," Xinhua cited Hu as saying.

Noda urged China to be forthcoming about what it learned about the North's transition.

"I would like vigorous information sharing between Japan and China, and intend to address the situation calmly and properly," the Japanese official cited Noda as telling Hu on the second and final day of his visit.

North Korea has alarmed the region with two plutonium-based nuclear test blasts, a succession of military altercations, and declarations that it was developing uranium enrichment, which could open another path to assembling atomic weapons.

Constraining North Korea is especially important for Japan, which is within range of the North's missiles and wants it to resolve the issue of the fate of Japanese citizens kidnapped and taken to North Korea to help train spies decades ago.

But China is wary about upsetting North Korea, especially during a delicate transition, and has restricted its public comments about the implications of Kim's death to broad calls for stability and calm.

"Both sides agreed that preserving the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula serves the interests of all sides," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in its account of talks on Sunday between Noda and Premier Wen Jiabao.

(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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