China warns N Korea of sanctions, calls US to ease tension

FRENCH PRESS AGENCY - AFP
BEIJING
Published 12.04.2017 22:28

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has urged Donald Trump to peacefully resolve tensions over North Korea's nuclear program, as the US president touted the power of a naval "armada" steaming towards the Korean peninsula.

China's foreign ministry said yesterday the two leaders had spoken by phone, days after Trump sent the aircraft carrier-led strike group to the region in a show of force ahead of a possible nuclear test.

The deployment was followed by a renewed warning that Washington was ready to take on North Korea alone if Beijing declined to help rein in its maverick neighbor's nuclear ambitions.

Pyongyang has issued a defiant response, saying it was ready to fight "any mode of war" chosen by the United States and even threatening a nuclear strike against US targets.

The saber-rattling has unnerved China, which has made clear its frustration with Pyongyang's stubbornness but whose priority remains preventing any military flare-up that could bring chaos and instability to its doorstep.

In the call, Xi stressed that China "advocates resolving the issue through peaceful means," the foreign ministry said.

On Tuesday, the US president tweeted that "North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A."

A barrage of recent North Korean missile tests has stoked US fears that Pyongyang may soon develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the U.S. mainland.

There is speculation that the country could be preparing a missile launch, or even another nuclear test, to mark the 105th birthday anniversary of its founder Kim Il-Sung on Saturday.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Wednesday it was "irresponsible and even dangerous to take any actions that may escalate the tension". "All relevant parties should exercise restraint and keep calm, easing tensions instead of provoking each other and adding fuel to the fire," he said at a regular press briefing.

Pyongyang has so far staged five nuclear tests, two of them last year, and analysis of satellite imagery suggests it could be preparing for a sixth.

China's Global Times newspaper, which sometimes reflects the thinking of the country's leadership, said a new test would be a "slap in the face of the U.S. government" and that Beijing would not "remain indifferent".

The language suggested China -- the North's sole major ally and economic lifeline -- could restrict oil imports to the country, after already announcing a suspension of all coal imports until the end of the year. The call between the leaders of the world's largest economies followed their first face-to-face meeting late last week. During the call, Xi told Trump that China remains "willing to maintain communication and coordination with the American side on the issue of the peninsula," according to the foreign ministry. Trump, it added, said it was vital for the two heads of state to maintain close ties.

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