China’s Leader Urges Restraint on North Korea in Call With Trump

April 24, 2017



BEIJING — China’s president, Xi Jinping, has urged President Trump to show restraint toward North Korea despite signs that the North may be preparing a nuclear test. Mr. Xi made the appeal in a phone call with Mr. Trump on Monday that reflected growing alarm over North Korea’s plans, which could tip the region into crisis.

The phone conversation, on Monday morning in Beijing, came after Mr. Trump had already used a meeting with Mr. Xi in Florida, a follow-up phone call, interviews and Twitter messages to press Mr. Xi to do more to deter North Korea from holding additional nuclear and missile tests. The United States and its allies have been on alert for another atomic test by the North.

In the latest call, the third between the two leaders, Mr. Xi indicated to Mr. Trump that China opposed any such test by North Korea, but he also nudged Mr. Trump to avoid a tit-for-tat response to the North’s fiery threats, according to a report on Chinese television.

“China adamantly opposes any actions in contravention of the United Nations Security Council resolutions,” Mr. Xi said, according to the report, evidently referring to a series of decisions by the Council to punish North Korea for its nuclear and missile programs.

“At the same time, it is hoped that all sides exercise restraint and avoid doing things that exacerbate tensions on the peninsula,” Mr. Xi said, referring to the Korean Peninsula. “Only if all sides live up to their responsibilities and come together from different directions can the nuclear issue on the peninsula be resolved as quickly as possible.”

The comments reflected growing Chinese fears that the tensions between North Korea and the United States and its Asian allies could spiral into outright military conflict. That widening rift is presenting China with confounding choices between its longstanding ties to North Korea and its hopes for steady relations with the United States.

“President Trump criticized North Korea’s continued belligerence and emphasized that Pyongyang’s actions are destabilizing the Korean Peninsula,” the White House said in its brief account of Mr. Trump’s call with Mr. Xi. “The two leaders reaffirmed the urgency of the threat posed by North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs, and committed to strengthen coordination in achieving the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

North Korea did not proceed with a nuclear test on April 15, which some experts had expected, but work apparently resumed at its atomic test site in Punggye-ri, according to analysts who have assessed satellite images of the site.

The flaring tensions over North Korea have already reopened cracks in its ties with China, which for decades has provided fuel, trade opportunities and a degree of political cover to North Korea, while other countries have shunned it.

The Chinese government has recently increased pressure on North Korea. In February, China officially suspended coal shipments from North Korea, and a prominent Chinese newspaper has also raised the threat of choking off oil shipments to the North.

North Korea’s official news agency responded over the weekend in a comment that warned China of “catastrophic consequences” for their relationship if economic sanctions continued, reported Yonhap, the South Korean news service.

But on Monday, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry stuck to pleas for calm from all sides when asked repeatedly about North Korea, its threats to China and the possibility of another nuclear test.

“The situation on the peninsula is complicated and sensitive,” the spokesman, Geng Shuang, said when asked about a possible North Korean nuclear test. “We strongly urge all sides to stay calm and restrained, and don’t take any actions that could escalate tensions.”

On Sunday, Japanese defense forces began a joint drill with a visiting United States Navy strike group featuring an aircraft carrier, the Carl Vinson, which had arrived in northeast Asia in a display of American resolve.

Mr. Trump had said this month that the Carl Vinson was part of an “armada” of American Navy ships that would move closer to North Korea as a warning against provocative actions. It turned out the Carl Vinson was headed nowhere near the Korean Peninsula, but the carrier and accompanying ships have since moved into the region, prompting warnings of a retaliatory strike from North Korea.

In the last two days, the North Korean state news media, including the main Workers’ Party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, has warned that the North was ready to turn the Carl Vinson into a “great heap of scrap metal” and “bury it in the sea.”

The South Korean Defense Ministry said on Monday that it was also considering holding joint drills with the Carl Vinson and accompanying ships, Reuters reported.

In addition to his discussion with Mr. Xi, Mr. Trump also spoke with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan on Monday morning in Tokyo, Mr. Abe told reporters.

Mr. Abe told the president that he strongly endorsed Mr. Trump’s position that all options were “on the table.”

“North Korea’s nuclear and missile program is an extremely serious threat to security not only in the international community but also for our country,” Mr. Abe said. “We will continue to closely cooperate and maintain the high level of warning and surveillance. We will respond resolutely.”

But Washington and allied governments believe that North Korea’s weapons development is getting closer to mastering the means to hit the continental United States with a ballistic missile. And they have become increasingly impatient with China to do more to rein in North Korea.

On the other hand, Beijing argues that Washington must also do more to end the volatile impasse with Pyongyang. Chinese diplomats have urged the United States to suspend major military exercises with South Korea in return for North Korea suspending nuclear and missile tests.

Mr. Xi’s government has also fiercely opposed an antimissile system — called the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or Thaad — that the Trump administration has begun installing in South Korea. China argues that the system could also be rejiggered to spy on its missiles.

But White House officials have said North Korea must prove it is serious about dismantling its nuclear and missiles programs before new negotiations are possible.

Adding to the friction, North Korea detained a United States citizen over the weekend, adding to the two Americans already known to be in custody there. The latest man believed to be held, Tony Kim, had been teaching accounting at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.

Adam Wu and Yufan Huang contributed research from Beijing. Motoko Rich contributed reporting from Tokyo.

 President Trump with President Xi Jinping of China at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., this month. The latest call between the leaders came during warnings that North Korea may be preparing a nuclear test. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Trump with President Xi Jinping of China at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., this month. The latest call between the leaders came during warnings that North Korea may be preparing a nuclear test. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

One Comment

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    April 25, 2017 at 1:24 AM

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