TOKYO — China issued a stern warning Friday to the United States and North Korea, urging them not to push their recriminations to a point of no return and allow war to break out on the Korean Peninsula.
In comments carried by China’s official Xinhua news agency, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said “storm clouds” were gathering, an apparent reference to North Korean preparations to conduct a new nuclear test and the U.S. deployment of a naval strike force to the waters off the peninsula. The U.S. military also has been conducting large-scale exercises with South Korean forces, drills that the North considers provocative.
“The United States and South Korea and North Korea are engaging in tit for tat, with swords drawn and bows bent,” Wang said at a news conference after meeting with visiting French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, Xinhua reported. “We urge all parties to refrain from inflammatory or threatening statements or deeds to prevent irreversible damage to the situation on the Korean Peninsula.”
Trump administration officials describe the situation as more dangerous than in the past, both because of the progress North Korea has made in its nuclear and missile programs and because of the hostility on both sides. But U.S. officials said no decision has been made about how to respond to any new test – nuclear or ballistic – by North Korea.
In the event of either a nuclear or a missile test, the U.S. military is likely at a minimum to conduct a show of force, potentially repositioning American forces within South Korea, flying long-range bombers over the southern part of the peninsula or moving ships around in nearby waters.
While officials do not rule out other actions, they also stress their desire to ensure that the situation does not escalate out of control. Pentagon officials denied recent media reports that the Trump administration is ready to launch a preemptive strike if North Korea appears to be about to conduct a nuclear test.
On Friday, North Korea accused President Trump of “making trouble” with his “aggressive” tweets, amid concerns that tensions between the two countries could escalate into military action.
And the North Korean army threatened to annihilate U.S. military bases in South Korea and the presidential palace in Seoul in response to what it called Trump’s “maniacal military provocations.”
Tensions have been steadily mounting in recent weeks as North Korea prepares for what it is calling a “big” event to mark the anniversary of its founder’s birthday Saturday, while the Trump administration warns that all options are on the table.
Expectations for a nuclear test or a missile launch in the lead-up to Saturday’s celebrations in Pyongyang have not come to pass. Instead, there are signs that the regime is getting ready to hold a huge parade this weekend, perhaps showing off new missiles – something that would qualify as the “big” event it has heralded.
Vice President Mike Pence arrives in Seoul on Sunday on the first leg of an Asia tour, and he will doubtless underscore Washington’s strong alliances with South Korea and Japan and their determination to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
The United States has sent an aircraft carrier strike group to the Korean Peninsula region, and Trump has repeatedly tweeted that if China will not use its leverage to rein in North Korea, the United States will act.
In his comments carried by Xinhua, Wang warned that “no one will win” if hostilities escalate. “It is not the one who espouses harsher rhetoric or raises a bigger fist that will win.” He also indicated that China is willing to broker a resumption of “dialogue,” whether “official or unofficial, through one channel or dual channels, bilateral or multilateral.”
North Korea’s vice foreign minister said that Trump was “becoming more vicious and more aggressive” than previous presidents, which was only making matters worse.
“Trump is always making provocations with his aggressive words,” Han Song Ryol told the Associated Press in an interview in Pyongyang.
“So that’s why. It’s not the DPRK but the U.S. and Trump that makes trouble,” he said, using the abbreviation for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as North Korea is officially known.
Han also repeated the regime’s common refrain that North Korea is ready to act to defend itself.
“We’ve got a powerful nuclear deterrent already in our hands, and we certainly will not keep our arms crossed in the face of a U.S. preemptive strike,” Han told the AP.
As for when the next nuclear test would take place, “that is something that our headquarters decides,” he said.
North Korea has a habit of fueling tensions to increase the rewards it might extract from the outside world if it desists.