WASHINGTON • Faced with a threat from North Korea that it might soon test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), US President-elect Donald Trump took to Twitter to declare bluntly: "It won't happen!"
In a second tweet on Monday night, he criticised China for not using its influence to help control North Korea.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said on Sunday that his nuclear- capable country was close to test- launching an ICBM, raising the prospect of putting parts of the United States in range.
South Korea said yesterday that Mr Trump's comment - his first mention of the North Korean nuclear issue since the US election in November - could be interpreted as a "clear warning" to the North.
"Because of our active outreach, President-elect Trump and US officials are clearly aware of the gravity and urgency of the North Korean nuclear threat," South Korea's Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho June Hyuck told a briefing.
"They are maintaining an unwavering stance on the need for sanctions on North Korea and for close cooperation between South Korea and the US."
Mr Trump, who takes office on Jan 20, has not outlined a policy on North Korea, but during the US election campaign indicated he would be willing to talk to its leader, Mr Kim, given the opportunity.
He has also been critical of China, which he said had benefited from its economic ties with the US but would not use its influence to help control North Korea.
"China has been taking out massive amounts of money & wealth from the US in totally one-sided trade, but won't help with North Korea. Nice!" he said in the tweet.
Responding yesterday, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing had been pushing for the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
"China's efforts in this regard are perfectly obvious," he told a news briefing. "As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, we have proactively participated in relevant discussions on the North Korean nuclear issue and have jointly passed several resolutions with other parties. This shows China's responsible attitude."
The US has for years dismissed North Korean calls for talks, insisting it must disarm first. Instead, the US and South Korea have responded to two North Korean nuclear tests and various missile tests last year with more severe sanctions.
At the end of November, the United Nations Security Council imposed new sanctions after Pyongyang carried out its fifth and largest nuclear test so far in September.
A North Korean ICBM, once fully developed, could threaten the continental US, which is about 9,000km from the North.
ICBMs have a minimum range of about 5,500km, but some are designed to travel 10,000km or more.
North Korea worked last year on developing components for an ICBM, making the claim that it was close to a test-launch plausible, international weapons experts said.