[The Pentagon sent a Navy strike group led by the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier toward the Korean Peninsula over the weekend to “maintain readiness” amid concerns that North Korea could be preparing for more missile launches and a sixth nuclear test.]
By Simon Denyer
President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, seen recently at Trump’s
Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., spoke early Wednesday about
the crisis on the Korean Peninsula. (Jim Watson/Agence
France-Presse via Getty Images)
BEIJING — During a telephone call early Wednesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged President Trump to find a peaceful solution to the crisis on the Korean Peninsula, state media reported.
The call came just four days after the leaders held face-to-face talks in Florida and hours after Trump tweeted that North Korea was “looking for trouble” and that the United States would “solve the problem” with or without China’s help.
The People’s Daily, the official Communist Party mouthpiece, said Xi thanked Trump for his “warm hospitality” in Florida but also took the opportunity to discuss “common concerns” about the Korean Peninsula and warn against any military escalation of the situation.
“Xi Jinping stressed that China insists on realizing the goal of denuclearization of the peninsula, insists on maintaining peace and stability on the peninsula, advocates resolving the problem through peaceful means and is willing to maintain communication and coordination with the U.S. side on the issue of the peninsula,” the paper wrote.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs weighed in soon afterward.
“All relevant parties should exercise restraint and keep calm, ease the tension instead of provoking each other and adding fuel to the fire,” spokesman Lu Kang told a regular news conference.
Lu said Xi had placed the phone call, at Trump’s request.
Trump later described the exchange in positive terms. “Had a very good call last night with the President of China concerning the menace of North Korea,” he tweeted.
The Pentagon sent a Navy strike group led by the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier toward the Korean Peninsula over the weekend to “maintain readiness” amid concerns that North Korea could be preparing for more missile launches and a sixth nuclear test.
The Carl Vinson is accompanied by a carrier air wing, a guided-missile cruiser and two destroyers, a group Trump described to Fox Business Network as “an armada, very powerful.”
According to Chinese state media, Xi said that he and Trump had “enhanced mutual understanding” and established a good working relationship. On Syria, Xi said that “any uses of chemical weapons are unacceptable” and voiced the need for a political settlement there, as well as “solidarity” and unanimity at the U.N. Security Council, the media said.
But Lü Chao, a North Korea expert at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, said the situation on the Korean Peninsula appeared to top the agenda, warning that the U.S. carrier group’s move to nearby waters had led to a “very serious standoff.”
“The concerned parties should really signal red lights and hit the brakes to defuse the situation,” Lü said. “Otherwise, it would be very easy for this to accidentally turn into a conflict.”
Pyongyang has also raised the stakes by warning that it could “hit the U.S. first” with nuclear weapons.
“Our military is keeping an eye on the movement of enemy forces while putting them in our nuclear sights,” said Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of the ruling Workers’ Party, adding that North Korea will use its “mighty nuclear weapons” to “obliterate” the United States.
While China continues to call for dialogue and a peaceful settlement of the crisis, it has also shown signs of growing impatience with North Korea.
On Monday, a senior South Korean official said that China had agreed to toughen sanctions on the North, through a stronger U.N. resolution, if it carries out nuclear or long-range missile tests.
However, South Korea’s chief nuclear envoy, Kim Hong-kyun, said there was no mention of a military option in his talks with China’s envoy for Korean Peninsula affairs, Wu Dawei, nor had the two discussed the possibility of a strike by the United States.
U.S. officials have stressed that stronger sanctions are likely to come first but that military options are not off the table. Experts say a U.S. military strike remains unlikely, though, partly because it is not clear what the target would be and partly because North Korea would probably respond with a devastating attack on the South Korean capital, Seoul.
On Tuesday, China’s state-run Global Times newspaper urged Pyongyang to stop its nuclear and missile program for its own security, arguing that a sixth nuclear test or inter-continental ballistic missile test would be seen as a “slap in the face” of the U.S. government and increase the chances of U.S. military action.
“Not only is Washington brimming with confidence and arrogance following the missile attacks on Syria, but Trump is also willing to be regarded as a man who honors his promises,” the paper wrote. “Pyongyang should avoid making mistakes at this time.”
Global Times editorials do not represent official government policy, but they often reflect thinking within the Communist Party.
The paper also said that China would seek stronger action by the U.N. Security Council if North Korea continues to conduct tests.
“If the North makes another provocative move this month, Chinese society will be willing to see the UNSC adopt severe restrictive measures that have never been seen before, such as restricting oil imports to the North,” the paper said.
North Korea is expected to hold a huge military parade Saturday to celebrate the 105th birthday of its founding president, Kim Il Sung, and to mark with similar fanfare the 85th anniversary of the creation of the Korean People’s Army on April 25.
Luna Lin and Jin Xin contributed to this report.