Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged his US counterpart Donald Trump to resolve peacefully the North Korean nuclear issue, even as a US aircraft carrier group is sailing to the Korean peninsula in a show of force.
During a phone call yesterday morning initiated by the White House, Mr Xi reiterated China's stand that the issue should be resolved peacefully through dialogue and negotiation, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regular press conference.
The Chinese leader also said Beijing was willing to work with Washington on the issue, according to national broadcaster CCTV.
Mr Trump tweeted yesterday that he "had a very good call last night with the President of China concerning the menace of North Korea". The call followed a tweet by Mr Trump on Tuesday in which he said North Korea was "looking for trouble", and that if China was not prepared to help, then the United States would "solve the problem without them".
The US leader followed that up with an interview with Fox Business that aired yesterday. He said: "We are sending an armada. We have submarines, very powerful, far more powerful than the aircraft carrier. We have the best military people on earth. (North Korean leader Kim Jong Un) is doing the wrong thing."
Mr Trump had earlier accused the Chinese of not doing enough to rein in North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes, and threa- tened to go it alone if the Chinese would not cooperate. His Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had said all options for dealing with Pyong- yang, including a military one, were on the table.
However, at the summit with the US President last week in Florida, Mr Xi did not budge from China's position on North Korea. He merely said Beijing would implement fully the United Nations Security Council's resolutions that mandated sanctions against Pyongyang.
The US at the weekend diverted a naval strike force led by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson from a planned exercise to the Korean peninsula.
Pyongyang has remained defiant, saying it is "ready to respond to any kind of battle the US desires, if the US prefers military action".
Amid the sabre-rattling, South Korea's Unification Ministry spokesman Lee Duk Haeng said yesterday there was no need to worry about security. The government was cooperating closely with other countries, including the US, to manage escalating tensions with the North, he was quoted as saying.
China Foreign Ministry's Mr Lu urged restraint on all sides, saying "any action that increases the tension in the peninsula is irresponsible and dangerous".
The Communist Party-linked Global Times in an editorial yesterday called on North Korea to refrain from any provocative acts, including a sixth nuclear test. There has been speculation that Pyongyang is readying for such a test or a missile launch to commemorate the 105th birthday of the country's founder Kim Il Sung on Saturday, or the 85th anniversary of the ruling Korean People's Army on April 25.
The paper, while warning that the US will win little international support if it took unilateral action, also urged Pyongyang, "for its own security", to halt its "provocative nuclear and missile activities".
Chinese analysts believe the probability of a military confrontation is not high at present. This is because the US still hopes to resolve the issue peacefully, said Professor Jia Qingguo of Peking University. As for what China can do, it "can only persuade the North that the situation is very dangerous and that it should make the correct choice" of giving up its nuclear weapons, he added.
China has been reluctant to take any drastic measures that could destabilise North Korea.
• Additional reporting by Nirmal Ghosh