Donald Trump Gets On The Phone To Asia As Another North Korea Flashpoint Looms

Donald Trump Gets On The Phone To Asia As Another North Korea Flashpoint Looms

On a call with Trump, Xi Jinping, urged US and North Korea to meet each other halfway. (Reuters)

Beijing:  President Trump was working the phones Monday morning Asia time, speaking to his counterparts in China and Japan ahead of another key anniversary and potential flashpoint in North Korea.

Just days after marking the birthday of founder Kim Il Sung with a massive military parade and missile test, there are concerns North Korea could stage a provocative missile or nuclear test Tuesday to mark the anniversary of its military's founding.

Trump discussed the situation with China's President Xi Jinping, who urged Washington and Pyongyang to meet each other halfway, and with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who demanded North Korea stop repeating "dangerously provocative actions."

The return of a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group to the region could also reignite tensions, especially if it is accompanied by another round of punchy rhetoric from either Pyongyang or Washington.

In Beijing, the possibility of another missile test is leading to mounting frustration with Pyongyang, and an increasingly obvious deterioration in relations with its neighbor.

On Monday, the Global Times newspaper said that if North Korea stages a sixth nuclear test, Beijing would "undoubtedly support" the United Nations in adopting tougher sanctions against the regime, including an embargo on oil exports.

China says it has already suspended all coal imports from North Korea, and although several North Korean ships, thought to be laden with coal, have been seen at Chinese ports recently, they are no indications they have been allowed to unload their cargoes.

The prospect of stiffer sanctions has already had an impact on daily life in Pyongyang: the NK news website reported Saturday that gas prices in Pyongyang nearly doubled in the recent days, with residents lining up at gas stations, while some were closed and others were only selling gasoline to foreign organizations and diplomats.

The regime's Korean Central News Agency criticized China - without naming it - for "dancing to the tune" of the United States on Friday. The Global Times, whose views do not necessarily reflect official policy, responded in an editorial that such a broadside "will not have any effect apart from further isolating Pyongyang itself."

Such public sniping is rare between the two allies who fought side-by-side during the Korean War and have since emphasized their close bond and unbreakable friendship.

In his phone call with Trump, China's Xi called for restraint from both Washington and Pyongyang, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement, but he also stressed that China "resolutely opposes activities that violate U.N. Security Council resolutions," and is willing to work with the United States and other countries to keep the peace.

Japan's Abe had a 30-minute call with Trump to discuss North Korea, whose actions he called an "extremely serious threat" to international society and to his country.

"I told him we highly value President Trump's attitude to show all options are on the table with his words and actions," Abe told reporters at Kantei. "We completely agreed to strongly demand North Korea, that has still been repeating dangerous provocative actions, to have self-restraint."

Naval destroyers from Japan's Maritime Self Defense Force started drills with the carrier strike group led by USS Carl Vinson in the Philippine Sea on Sunday, and the South Korean navy is expected to do the same as the group approaches the Korean Peninsula.

In Asia last week, Vice President Mike Pence said that "all options are on the table" for dealing with North Korea and its provocations, although experts say a military strike remains unlikely.

North Korea responded by saying that the Trump administration was "spouting a load of rubbish" with its calls for "browbeating" Pyongyang and its deployment of the carrier group.

"Such intimidation and blackmail can never frighten [North Korea]," the Foreign Ministry said, according to a report carried by the state KCNA news agency.

Another state media outlet was even more defiant, threatening to sink the Vinson, which it compared to a "gross animal," according to Reuters.

"Our revolutionary forces are combat-ready to sink a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with a single strike," the Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the North's ruling Workers' Party, said in a commentary.

There are continued signs of activity at North Korea's main nuclear test site at Punggye-ri in the northeast of the country. Latest satellite images show trailers and mining carts at the site, according to the 38 North website, although activity does not always mean that the North Koreans are planning a test.

China's Defense Ministry denied media reports last week it had put its troops on "high alert" near the North Korea border, saying it was merely conducting "normal training."

But Beijing is not only frustrated with Pyongyang.

It also blames the United States for forcing the regime into a corner, with the George W. Bush administration backing out of negotiations and naming North Korea part of an "axis of evil" in 2002. The toppling of Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Libya's Moammar Gadhafi also helped convince Pyongyang's rulers that abandoning their nuclear program would lead to their overthrow, experts say.

The Global Times said Trump had initially labelled Obama's policies as mistaken, but then followed the same line.

"Washington should also reflect on its wrongdoing," it wrote. "Trump won't reach the right destination if he only changes a pair of shoes while continuing along the same old path."

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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