BEIJING/SEOUL • Chinese President Xi Jinping called for all sides to exercise restraint yesterday in a telephone call about North Korea with United States President Donald Trump, as Japan conducted exercises with a US aircraft carrier strike group headed for Korean waters.
Mr Trump sent the carrier group for exercises in waters off the Korean peninsula as a warning, amid growing fears that Pyongyang could conduct another nuclear test in defiance of United Nations sanctions.
Angered by the approach of the USS Carl Vinson carrier group, a defiant North Korea said yesterday that the deployment was "an extremely dangerous act by those who plan a nuclear war to invade".
In a commentary, Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the North's ruling Workers' Party, said: "The United States should not run amok and should consider carefully any catastrophic consequence from its foolish military provocative act. What's only laid for aggressors is dead bodies."
Two Japanese destroyers have joined the carrier group for exercises in the western Pacific, and South Korea said yesterday it was also in talks about holding joint naval exercises. The US and its allies fear North Korea could be preparing to conduct another nuclear test or launch more ballistic missiles.
China is North Korea's sole major ally but has been angered by its nuclear and missile programmes and is frustrated by Pyongyang's belligerence. China, which has repeatedly called for the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, is increasingly worried the situation could spin out of control, leading to war and a chaotic collapse of its isolated, impoverished neighbour.
Mr Xi told Mr Trump in their latest telephone conversation that China resolutely opposed any actions that ran counter to UN Security Council resolutions, the Chinese foreign ministry said.
China "hopes that all relevant sides exercise restraint, and avoid doing anything to worsen the tense situation on the peninsula", the ministry said in a statement, paraphrasing Mr Xi. The nuclear issue could be resolved quickly only with all relevant countries pulling in the same direction, and China was willing to work with all parties, including the US, to ensure peace, Mr Xi said.
The issue has gained added urgency as North Korea prepares to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the founding of its Korean People's Army today. It has marked similar events in the past with nuclear tests or missile launches.
Mr Trump was critical of China in his election campaign but he has in recent days praised its efforts to rein in what he called the "menace of North Korea".
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said the call between the two presidents was the latest manifestation of their close communication, which was good for both of their countries and the world.
Mr Trump also spoke by telephone with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. "We agreed to strongly demand that North Korea, which is repeating its provocation, show restraint," Mr Abe told reporters. "We will maintain close contact with the United States, keep a high level of vigilance and respond firmly."
Mr Abe also said he and Mr Trump agreed that China should play a large role in dealing with the issue. A Japanese official said the phone call between Mr Trump and Mr Abe was not prompted by any specific change in the situation.
Envoys on the North Korean nuclear issue from the US, South Korea and Japan are due to meet in Tokyo today. The US government has not specified where the carrier strike group is, but US Vice-President Mike Pence said on Saturday it would arrive "within days".