Beijing, which has blocked efforts by the council to force Sudan to allow troops into Darfur, has said further sanctions would only complicate the situation in the troubled region further, rather than help it.

 

Speaking after talks on Monday Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, said China, which supplies arms to Sudan, was open to the idea of forming a new contact group of nations on Darfur.

 

He said Yang Jiechi, the Chinese foreign minister, responded positively to an invitation to be part of the group, which would eventually include South Africa, Eritrea and several other African nations.

 

At least 200,000 have been killed and 2.5 million more made homeless by the fighting which erupted in Sudan's western region in 2003, according to UN estimates.

 

The fighting in Darfur has killed 200,000 and
displaced about 2.5m people since 2003 [AP]
The Sudanese government has repeatedly rejected plans to deploy UN troops alongside African peacekeepers.

 

On Friday, the Security Council endorsed plans for a hybrid UN-African Union force but its deployment remains subject to Khartoum's approval.

 

The annual ASEM meeting is an informal dialogue initiated in 1996 to strengthen ties and increase mutual understanding and cooperation between the two regions.

 

Other priority areas at the ASEM meeting include Kosovo, the Iranian and North Korean nuclear standoffs, and fraught efforts to map the way forward on fighting climate change, a topic high on the agenda of the G8 summit next week.

 

Climate pressure

 

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, said neither climate change nor the nuclear crises can be resolved "without strong and positive Chinese involvement".

 

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has prioritised climate change for the G8 summit in Heiligendamm on June 6-8.

 

She hopes to tie China and India into a new accord on fighting greenhouse gas emissions once the Kyoto protocol runs out in 2012.

 

But Yang refused to be drawn on whether Beijing would agree to restrictions in the post-Kyoto era, saying China needs to strike a balance in the battle between pollution and poverty.

 

Asian nations are also likely to come under pressure over their attitude to Myanmar government which extended by another year the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's opposition leader and Nobel peace laureate.