China urged the US and North Korea to urgently “put the brakes” on provocative actions and words on Tuesday after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appeared to back away from a threat to fire missiles toward the US Pacific territory of Guam.
Speaking with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday in a phone conversation, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said peacefully solving the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula is in the interest of all relevant parties, including China and Russia.
Wang also agreed to coordinate closely on the nuclear issue, strengthening the countries’ strategic communication, working together to manage and control the situation in order to prevent an “August crisis,” according to statement from the Chinese foreign ministry.
During the call between Lavrov and Wang “the ministers stressed that there is no alternative to a political and diplomatic settlement” the Chinese statement said.
A statement on the Russian foreign ministry’s website said Russian and China discussed “possible ways out of the confrontational spiral on the Korean Peninsula,” and that “military adventures and threats of force” against North Korea were “unacceptable.”
The call for a de-escalation comes just hours after state media KCNA reported that Kim had reviewed a previously announced plan to fire four missiles on a trajectory over western Japan, but had decided not to go ahead with the proposal for now.
The KCNA report Tuesday said Kim had “examined the (strike) plan for a long time and discussed it with the commanding officers in real earnest.”
The statement then appears to put the onus to act on Trump, saying Kim would “watch a little more the foolish and stupid conduct of the Yankees.”
The report is assumed to be referring to the US joint military drills with South Korea, known as the Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, which are scheduled to start August 21.
The annual 10-day military drills antagonizes North Korea, as Pyongyang believes they are preparations for an invasion. Seoul and Washington say the exercises are defensive in nature.
“If the planned fire of power demonstration is carried out as the US is going more reckless, it will be the most delightful historic moment when the Hwasong artillerymen will wring the windpipes of the Yankees and point daggers at their necks,” the report said.
The US and South Korea have confirmed the drills will go ahead as planned.
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert was asked Tuesday whether North Korea’s conditional proposal to pull back on its threat to launch ballistic missiles near Guam was enough for the US to engage in dialogue.
“I feel like that’s sort of a question that my child might propose. You know?” Nauert told reporters. “If my child were to say, ‘Hey mom, if I don’t steal this cookie will you then give me television?’ No. The answer’s no on that one. I think we can all relate to that.”
When asked if she was comparing Kim to a child asking for more television time, Nauert added: “I’m not suggesting that. I’m just suggesting it’s such an extreme hypothetical to reward someone for not doing something.”
China’s Global Times newspaper, a state-run tabloid, was scathing of South Korea’s decision to proceed with the drills.
“The drill will definitely provoke Pyongyang more, and Pyongyang is expected to make a more radical response,” it said in an editorial.
“If South Korea really wants no war on the Korean Peninsula, it should try to stop this military exercise.”
The Global Times, while state-run, often uses stronger language than the official line from Beijing.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs told CNN its official line is that “the bottom line” to resolve the North Korea nuclear issue is “to uphold the general direction of dialogue, negotiation and political settlement.”
“The current situation on the Korean Peninsula is highly complex and sensitive. We hope to see the relevant sides ‘extinguish fire’ through their words and actions instead of ‘adding fuel’ amid tensions. We hope to see them improve mutual trust, and move toward the goal of preserving peace and stability on the peninsula as well as realizing the denuclearization of the peninsula.”
On Tuesday, US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis was asked whether he believed Kim was holding off on a missile launch targeting Guam and what the US would do if such a launch took place.
“Here at the Pentagon, we are a part of the sentinels for our nation. We stand ready to defend our nation,” Mattis said, echoing his warning from Monday that if North Korea fired on US territory it would be “game on.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was also asked about Kim’s announcement that he would put off a potential missile strike on or near Guam.
“I have no response to his decision at this time,” Tillerson said, adding, “we continue to be interested in finding a way to get to a dialogue, but that’s up to him.”