BEIJING: Chinese leader Xi Jinping urged US President Donald Trump on Saturday to avoid rhetoric that could inflame tensions with North Korea as an escalating war of words raised global alarm.
Xi made the plea in a phone call hours after Trump ramped up his warnings to Pyongyang, saying the Stalinist regime would “truly regret” taking hostile action against the United States.
The White House said in a statement that the two leaders “agreed North Korea must stop provocative and escalatory behaviour” and that they are both committed to the denuclearisation of the peninsula.
But the Chinese foreign ministry said Xi urged Trump to avoid “words and deeds” that would “exacerbate” the already-tense situation, exercise restraint and seek a political settlement.
Trump has been engaged all week in verbal sparring with the North over its weapons and missile programmes, as US media reported Pyongyang has successfully miniaturised a nuclear warhead.
The Republican billionaire has progressively ramped up the tone throughout the week and on Friday declared that the US military is “locked and loaded.” In a call with Guam Governor Eddie Calvo on Friday, Trump said the US military is prepared to “ensure the safety and security of the people of Guam” in response to Pyongyang’s plans to launch missiles towards the Pacific territory.
Japanese media said Tokyo was deploying its Patriot missile defence system following Pyongyang’s threat to fire ballistic missiles over the country towards Guam.
In another move that could further fan the flames, satellite photos posted by defence expert Joseph Bermudez suggested that North Korea could be preparing for fresh submarine-based ballistic missile tests.
Trump had earlier brandished a threat of unleashing “fire and fury” on Pyongyang, then noted on Thursday maybe that statement “wasn’t tough enough”.
On Friday, the president said the military was “locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely”.
China, North Korea’s biggest ally and trade partner, has been voicing concern at the angry exchanges and a state-run newspaper suggested that Beijing should stay neutral if Pyongyang struck the US first.
Previously accused by Trump of not doing enough to rein in the authoritarian regime, China voted in favour of a series of wide-sweeping UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea last weekend.
According to the Chinese foreign ministry, Trump told Xi over the phone that he “fully understands China’s role in the nuclear issue in the Korean Peninsula”. Trump is expected to visit China later this year.
A commentary published in the North Korean state-run newspaper Minju Joson called the warnings from Trump and “other riffraff of the US... the last-ditch efforts and hysteric fit of those who are in the grip of despair” over the “tragic doom” of the “American empire”.
The sabre-rattling has sparked worldwide concerns that a miscalculation by either side could trigger a catastrophic conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
A chorus of international voices — including Russia, Germany, France and the UK — have urged restraint in the crisis, while Seoul expressed appreciation for Xi and Trump’s phone call Saturday.
“We hope today’s phone conversation between the two leaders will provide a momentum to defuse the highest-ever tension and to shift into a new phase of resolving the issue,” said a statement from South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s office.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was “very alarmed” at Trump’s tough talk, and said Washington should take the first step towards cooling tensions.
“When a fight has nearly broken out, the first step away from the dangerous threshold should be taken by the side that is stronger and smarter,” Lavrov said.
Published in Dawn, August 13th, 2017