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 behavior” and that they are both committed to the denuclearization 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 programs, as US media reported Pyongyang has successfully miniaturized 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 Pyong-yang’s threat to fire ballistic missiles over the country towards Guam.
‘Fire and fury’
In another move that could further fan the flames, satellite photos posted by defense 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 Thursday maybe that statement “wasn’t tough enough.”
China, North Korea’s biggest ally and trade partner, has been voicing concern at the mounting 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 favor 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.
The North’s official KCNA news service in an editorial blamed Trump for “driving the situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of a nuclear war,” calling the US “the heinous nuclear war fanatic.”
The sabre-rattling has sparked worldwide concerns that a miscalculation by either side could trigger a catastrophic conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
Russia and Germany have also urged both sides to tone down the rhetoric.
“Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong-Un will find another path!” Trump wrote Friday from his golf club retreat in New Jersey, where he is on a working vacation.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was “very alarmed” at Trump’s tough talk, and said Washington should take the first step toward 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.