China calls for restraint amid war of words

Chinese President Xi Jinping told US President Donald Trump that it was in the interests of China and the US to achieve denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
Chinese President Xi Jinping told US President Donald Trump that it was in the interests of China and the US to achieve denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.PHOTO: REUTERS

Xi urges 'peaceful resolution' in a phone call to Trump just hours after latter said US is 'locked and loaded'

The North Korean nuclear issue needs a peaceful resolution, Chinese President Xi Jinping told US President Donald Trump in a telephone call yesterday, as he called on "relevant parties" to exercise restraint.

The White House said in turn that the two leaders agreed that North Korea "must stop its provocative and escalatory behaviour".

The call came hours after Mr Trump warned North Korea that the US military was "locked and loaded" after Pyongyang accused him of driving the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war.

It also followed the Pentagon's statement that the US and South Korea would proceed as planned with a joint military exercise that starts on Aug 21, which is likely to provoke Pyongyang further.

Mr Xi told Mr Trump the parties should "avoid words and deeds that will exacerbate the tension on the Korean peninsula".

He also told Mr Trump it was in the interests of China and the US to achieve denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and protect peace and stability there, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Mr Trump was quoted as telling Mr Xi that he fully understands the role China has been playing in the North Korea nuclear issue.

The White House said in a statement after the call that the two leaders' close relationship "will hopefully lead to a peaceful resolution of the North Korea problem".

Mr Xi told Mr Trump the parties should "avoid words and deeds that will exacerbate the tension on the Korean Peninsula"... Mr Trump was quoted as telling Mr Xi that he fully understands the role China has been playing in the North Korea nuclear issue.

They also agreed that the recent adoption of United Nations Security Council sanctions against the North was an "important and necessary step towards achieving peace and stability on the Korean peninsula", said the White House.

Mr Trump has seen the support of China as crucial in reining in North Korea, which tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles last month, and raised this with Mr Xi in their meetings this year.

China, traditionally North Korea's ally, has responded to some extent, banning coal imports from its neighbour in February and voting for a seventh round of UN Security Council sanctions against Mr Kim Jong Un's regime last Sunday.

Yesterday, Mr Xi told Mr Trump that resolving the nuclear issue ultimately needs to be done politically via talks, and China is willing to maintain communication with the US on the basis of mutual respect to push for an appropriate resolution.

Chinese analysts told The Sunday Times that Mr Trump likely indicated to Mr Xi that Beijing has a shrinking window to rein in North Korea, and a military solution is becoming increasingly probable.

That North Korea is now threatening the American homeland with its nuclear arsenal means the Trump administration is under greater pressure than ever to seek a swift solution, said Professor Jia Qingguo, dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University.

Should Mr Trump begin weighing his military options, the call would also have touched on how to coordinate more closely the US and Chinese militaries during an emergency, he added.

"In the event where Trump sees no better solution than a military one, both sides (US and China) want to make sure they are prepared for a crisis on North Korea territory, including how to prevent accidents, restore order, and who will handle the North's nuclear arsenal," said Prof Jia.

But another analyst said Mr Trump had likely stressed that diplomacy remained an option.

Said Renmin University's international relations professor Shi Yinhong: "Because the war of words had escalated tensions to an unreasonable level in the past few days, Mr Trump probably felt the need to explain to China that diplomacy remains one of the tools in his arsenal to resolve the North Korea problem, while hoping that China can apply more pressure on the North."

Meanwhile, Mr Trump yesterday assured Guam it has the backing of the US after North Korea threatened last week to create "an enveloping fire" with ballistic missiles around the island.

Guam Governor Eddie Calvo posted a video on Facebook of himself speaking with Mr Trump. "We are with you a thousand per cent. You are safe," he told Mr Calvo.

Other countries weighed in on the North Korean nuclear issue yesterday.

French President Emmanuel Macron warned against an "escalation of tensions" while British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said North Korea "must fix" the crisis it had started.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 13, 2017, with the headline 'China calls for restraint amid war of words'. Print Edition | Subscribe