China on Tuesday took a swipe at the United States, saying there was "no reason" to refuse dialogue with North Korea despite a string of missile tests strongly condemned by the UN Security Council.
The council met behind closed doors to discuss tightening sanctions on North Korea following the launch on Sunday of a medium-range missile that again raised alarm over Pyongyang's military capabilities.
But China, the North's main trade partner and ally, made clear that the push for diplomatic talks -- not imposing more sanctions-- was the priority.
"There is no reason why dialogue is not taking place in the current situation," Chinese Ambassador Liu Jieyi told reporters after the meeting, adding: "It takes political will."
The United States has said it was willing to enter into talks with North Korea -- but only if it halts its missile and nuclear tests.
"The need for dialogue is very strong," Liu insisted. "We don't see why dialogue cannot take place in the current situation now."
The ambassador stressed that during previous efforts to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula, "every progress was achieved as a result of dialogue."
China has repeatedly called for a resumption of six-party talks that have been dormant since North Korea walked out on the negotiations in 2009.
Aside from China and North Korea, the talks include the United States, South Korea, Russia and Japan.
North Korea on Sunday launched the Pukguksong-2, which traveled about 500 kilometers (310 miles) before landing in the Sea of Japan.
The launch was the latest in a series this year as Pyongyang steps up its efforts to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States.
The United States has for weeks been negotiating a new Security Council sanctions resolution with China, but US Ambassador Nikki Haley said last week that no final draft had been clinched.
Asked about imposing new sanctions, the Chinese ambassador responded that "this was a hypothetical question" and added that current sanctions must be applied "in a comprehensive way."
In a unanimous statement adopted on Monday, the council instructed the UN sanctions committee to redouble efforts to implement a series of tough measures adopted last year.
The council also agreed to "take further significant measures including sanctions" to force North Korea to change course and end its "highly destabilizing behavior."
Calling the missile launches "totally unacceptable," Japanese Ambassador Koro Bessho said "the international community must not leave this total defiance unanswered."
"We hope we will be able to strengthen the sanctions mechanism," he said.
North Korea has carried out 11 missile launches this year, said Uruguay's Ambassador Elbio Rosselli, this month's council president, describing the tests as a "quantum leap" that showed "determined efforts to acquire aggressive capabilities."
But Rosselli declined to specify whether a new sanctions resolution was being prepared, saying the council was "discussing and considering different options."
In response to the latest launch, the United Nations called on North Korea "to stop further testing and allow space to explore the resumption of meaningful dialogue."
The North, which says it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself against the threat of invasion, said it "flatly rejected" the UN statement, which had been drawn up by "the US and its followers."
The Security Council adopted two sanctions resolutions last year to ramp up pressure on Pyongyang and deny leader Kim Jong-Un the hard currency needed to fund his military programs.
In all, six sets of sanctions have been imposed on North Korea since it first tested an atomic device in 2006.