Xi Urges North Korea Talks in Trump Call as Tensions Mount

  • China’s leader seeks peaceful resolution of Korea dispute
  • U.S. has dispatched warships amid fresh fears of nuclear test

Larry Summers Questions the Wisdom of Threatening China

Chinese President Xi Jinping told Donald Trump that talks were the only way to ease concerns over North Korea, after the U.S. leader sent warships to the region and warned he was ready to act without Beijing.

All nations involved “should settle their disputes peacefully through dialogue and consultation to be jointly committed to peace and stability on the Korean peninsula,” state broadcaster China Central Television quoted Xi as saying Wednesday. He reiterated his commitment to removing nuclear weapons from the peninsula during the call, which China’s foreign ministry later said had been initiated by Trump.

QuickTake North Korea's Nukes

Reports of the phone call came after Trump tweeted that North Korea was “looking for trouble” and that the U.S. was prepared to resolve the matter without China, the major backer of Kim Jong Un’s regime. Fears of conflict have risen after the U.S. diverted an aircraft carrier strike group to nearby waters as North Korea showed preparations for a nuclear test or ballistic missile launch.

Trump told the Fox Business Network that the U.S. was “sending an armada, very powerful” to North Korea. In a series of tweets Tuesday, he said he told Xi that any efforts by China to rein in North Korea would help improve the conditions of a two-way trade deal. The two leaders met face-to-face last week at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida.

‘Exercise Restraint’

South Korea’s government sought to quell any anxiety about potential military action. Unification Ministry spokesman Lee Duk-haeng said Wednesday that there was no need to worry about regional security. He added that the government was closely cooperating with other nations, including the U.S., to manage escalating tensions.

South Korea was on alert for any provocations to mark symbolic dates in North Korea’s history, such as the Saturday anniversary of its late founder Kim Il Sung’s birth. North Korea was hosting foreign journalists in Pyongyang before the commemoration.

Read more on market jitters as key North Korean dates loom

“It is irresponsible and even dangerous to take any actions that may escalate tension,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular briefing in Beijing on Wednesday. “All parties should exercise restraint instead of provoking each other and adding fuel to the fire.”

‘Tipping Point’

The Global Times, a nationalist newspaper affiliated with China’s Communist Party, warned that a nuclear test now would represent a “slap in the face” of the U.S. government. Such action might prompt China to restrict oil sales to North Korea, the paper said in an editorial.

IMA Asia CEO Says Top Risk in Asia Is North Korea

“The Korean Peninsula has never been so close to a military clash since the North conducted its first nuclear test in 2006,” it said. “Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program is intended for securing the regime, however, it is reaching a tipping point.”

“Pyongyang should avoid making mistakes at this time,” the paper said.

In a sign of China’s waning patience, the country earlier this year banned coal imports from North Korea. China has repeatedly called for a resumption of six-nation talks that collapsed in 2009, while the Trump administration has said it wouldn’t entertain discussions with Kim’s regime until it abandoned its nuclear ambitions.

Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force and the U.S. Navy are planning a joint training exercise involving the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier that’s heading to the Korean peninsula, the Asahi newspaper reported Wednesday, citing an unidentified person in the Japanese government. The Japanese foreign ministry issued a travel alert to citizens residing in or traveling to South Korea, urging them to monitor developments. 

Election Issue

North Korea is dominating South Korea’s presidential campaign, less than four weeks before voting on a successor to the ousted Park Geun-hye.

Moon Jae-in, the candidate for the left-leaning Democratic Party of Korea, said he would fight against North Korea himself to defend his country, while calling for a bipartisan meeting to discuss national security. The special forces veteran, who has been accused by opponents of being too soft on Kim’s regime, also eased his reservations over the U.S.’s move to install a missile shield on South Korean soil over China’s objections.

“If North Korea continues with its nuclear provocations and China fails to restrain it, Thaad’s deployment will be inevitable,” Moon said in a Facebook post Tuesday. Whether to insert the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system “entirely hinges on the North’s attitude and China’s efforts,” he said.

Read more on the Thaad missile defense system and why it bothers China

Moon had previously called for a review of the decision to install Thaad. His main rival, Ahn Cheol-soo, of the centrist People’s Party, advocates deploying the missile shield. Reflecting his stance, Ahn’s party is also considering changing its position and supporting Thaad.

Watch Next: IMA Asia CEO Says Top Risk in Asia Is North Korea

— With assistance by Keith Zhai, Kanga Kong, Isabel Reynolds, and Peter Martin

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
    LEARN MORE