China's top nuclear envoy arrived in Seoul Monday for talks on the North Korean problem, as a United States Navy strike group heads to the region in a show of force to Pyongyang and in solidarity with Seoul and Tokyo.
Fresh from a missile strike on Syria that was widely interpreted as a warning to Pyongyang, President Donald Trump has asked to be provided with a range of options for eliminating North Korea's nuclear capabilities.
"Presidents before and President Trump agreed that that is unacceptable, that what must happen is the denuclearization of the peninsula," U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told Fox News on Sunday.
Speculation of an imminent nuclear test is brewing as North Korea marks major anniversaries this month, including the 105th birthday of its founding leader, Kim Il-sung, usually celebrated with a demonstration of military might.
Wu Dawei, China's Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Affairs, will meet with his South Korean counterpart late on Monday to discuss the nuclear issue, Seoul's foreign ministry said.
South Korea's deployment of a controversial U.S. missile defense system loathed by Beijing will also be high on Wu's agenda, Yonhap news agency said.
The talks come shortly after President Trump hosted China's President Xi Jinping for a summit at which he pressed Pyongyang's key ally to do more to curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Trump's decision to strike a Syrian government airfield Friday was executed while he was dining with the Chinese premier.
"[We] are prepared to chart our own course if this is something China is just unable to coordinate with us," U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said after the summit.
The U.S. Navy Strike Group 1, centered around the USS Carl Vinson, cancelled a planned trip to Australia, setting sail toward the Korean peninsula instead.
Seoul and Washington are also conducting joint military exercises and "war games," an annual exercise which is seen by North Korea as a practice for war.
Pyongyang, according to his own rhetoric, is on a quest to develop a long-range missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland with a nuclear warhead and has so far staged five nuclear tests, two of them last year. However, the isolated communist dictatorship's missile technology has been outdated by decades, to say the least.
The North Koreans have not given up, however, conducting multiple ballistic missile tests since the beginning of the year. While the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe was visiting President Trump in the White House on Feb. 11, Pyongyang launched a ballistic missile which splashed down in the Sea of Japan, prompting Trump to say, "I just want everybody to know that the United States stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent."
Pyongyang has since launched five more ballistic missiles, four on March 6 and one more on April 4, one day before Trump first met with President Xi.