China yesterday warned against allowing tensions over North Korea's nuclear weapons programme to spiral out of control, as a US naval strike force sails towards the Korean peninsula amid speculation that Pyongyang will conduct a sixth nuclear test.
Reflecting growing unease in the region, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said there is a sense that a conflict could break out at any moment. "If a war occurs, the result is a situation in which everybody loses and there can be no winner."
Speaking to reporters, he called on all parties to refrain from provoking and threatening each other to avoid the situation reaching an "irreversible and unmanageable stage".
Neighbouring Russia also weighed in yesterday, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov urging "restraint" and warning against any "provocative steps", as quoted by the media.
US President Donald Trump has diverted a naval strike group led by the nuclear-powered carrier USS Carl Vinson to the Korean peninsula. This came amid reports of activity at a nuclear test site in North Korea ahead of today's 105th anniversary of the birth of the country's founder Kim Il Sung, fuelling speculation of an imminent nuclear test. There was also talk of a possible missile test.
On Thursday, Mr Trump said Pyongyang was a problem that "will be taken care of", and that he believed Chinese President Xi Jinping would "work very hard" to help resolve the issue, reported Reuters.
Mr Trump had earlier said that if China was not prepared to help, the United States would "solve the problem without them".
US Vice-President Mike Pence is due in Seoul tomorrow, with North Korea at the top of his agenda.
On Wednesday, Mr Trump spoke on the phone with Mr Xi, who urged a peaceful resolution to the issue.
While the US has pressured China to rein in North Korea's nuclear programme, Beijing has been reluctant to take drastic measures that could destabilise Pyongyang, instead urging all sides to return to talks.
Pyongyang yesterday responded with bravado, with its military saying it would "ruthlessly ravage" the US if Washington chose to attack.
"Our toughest counter action against the US and its vassal forces will be taken in such a merciless manner as not to allow the aggressors to survive," the military was quoted as saying in a statement by the North's news agency KCNA.
North Korean Vice-Foreign Minister Han Song Ryol separately told the Associated Press that Pyongyang would conduct a nuclear test at a time of its choosing.
Tokyo's benchmark index yesterday fell to its lowest close this year on growing geopolitical fears.
Air China, the only Chinese airline with regular flights to North Korea, has cancelled some flights between Beijing and Pyongyang based on their ticket sales situation, reported China News Service yesterday.