China’s leader, Xi Jinping, and President Donald Trump spoke by phone on Wednesday about the escalating tensions with North Korea as a prominent Chinese state-run newspaper warned the North that it faced a cutoff of vital oil supplies if it dared test a nuclear weapon.
The phone call, reported by China’s state broadcaster, CCTV, came hours after Trump cautioned Beijing in a Twitter message and a television interview that it needed to help Washington rein in North Korea, a Chinese ally. During the call, which was initiated by Trump, Xi said that the matter should be solved through peaceful means, the state news agency Xinhua reported.
A show of force
Tensions escalated further on Wednesday as reports said the Japanese navy would join the U.S. Navy strike group led by the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson in its mission off the Korean coast. Those joint exercises would take place as the U.S. armada passed through waters close to Japan, Reuters said.
The Carl Vinson and several other warships are heading toward the Korean Peninsula in a show of force intended to deter the North from testing a sixth nuclear weapon or launching missiles.
North Korea on Saturday is celebrating the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the founder of the nation. Its current leader, Kim Jong Un, his grandson, is expected to use the occasion to either stage a nuclear weapons test or conduct a missile test, in direct defiance of the United States and its main patron, China.
U.S. television networks and some newspapers have been invited to report on a military show in the capital, Pyongyang, this weekend.
Chinese editorial warns N. Korea
In an unusually strong editorial, Global Times, a newspaper that sometimes reflects the thinking of China’s leadership, said Beijing would support stiffer United Nations sanctions, including “strictly limiting” oil exports to North Korea should it conduct a nuclear test.
The editorial, indicating nervousness about what the North might do on Saturday, said that the peninsula was the closest to “military clashes” since 2006.
“China, too, can no longer stand the continuous escalation of the North Korean nuclear issue at its doorstep,” the editorial said. “Instead of accepting a situation that continues to worsen, putting an end to this is more in line with the wish of the Chinese public.”
The newspaper called on Pyongyang to avoid a “head-on collision” with Trump by suspending its provocative activities. If the North Korean regime did not restrain itself and made “a huge mistake, it may be difficult to have another chance to correct its strategy.”
North Korea is almost entirely dependent on China for its oil, and a loss of its supplies would cripple the noticeable economic growth in the country over the last few years.
'Washington brimming with confidence'
Global Times also reminded North Korea that Trump had ordered missile strikes against Syria, an attack that occurred during Xi’s visit to Florida less than a week ago. Trump has promised in interviews that he is willing to take unilateral action against North Korea if necessary, although he has not specified what he would do.
“Not only is Washington brimming with confidence and arrogance following the missile attacks on Syria, but Trump is also willing to be regarded as a man who honors his promises,” Global Times wrote.
The two leaders discussed North Korea during their meeting at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, but little progress appears to have been made.
After the talks, administration officials said that Xi did not offer substantially new measures, including stiffer sanctions, to penalize North Korea’s behavior.
China 'becoming increasingly proactive'
The CCTV account of the call on Wednesday did not mention new actions China might take against North Korea. But the two leaders most likely had a substantive conversation about addressing the situation, a Chinese expert on North Korea said.
“We don’t know the real content of the conversation,” said Cheng Xiaohe, an associate professor of international relations at Renmin University. “China used to be in a passive mode. China’s policies towards North Korea are becoming increasingly proactive.”