BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping told President Donald Trump in a phone call Wednesday that Beijing is willing to work with Washington on ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program but wants a peaceful solution to the escalating conflict.
Xi’s comments came after Trump tweeted that China should do more on the issue Washington sees as an increasingly urgent threat, or the U.S. would go it alone.
China’s calls for calm come as tensions have risen with the deployment of a U.S. aircraft carrier to the area and the conducting of the biggest-ever U.S.-South Korea military exercises.
During their phone call, Xi told Trump that China insists on peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and wants to find a solution to the problem through peaceful means, according to a brief description of the call released by the Chinese foreign ministry.
“China insists on realizing the denuclearization of the peninsula … and is willing to maintain communication and coordination with the American side over the issue on the peninsula,” Xi was quoted as saying.
The two leaders spoke Tuesday night Washington time after Trump said an “armada” of vessels including the USS Carl Vinson carrier was steaming to waters off the Korean Peninsula in a show of force.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Wednesday at a regular briefing in Beijing that it was a “good thing” that the two leaders were in touch again days after meeting in Florida.
Regarding the U.S. navy flotilla’s arrival in the western Pacific, Lu said: “We hope all parties will refrain from irresponsible actions that would be very dangerous at the moment.”
North Korean state media has warned of a nuclear attack on the United States in retaliation for any signs of aggression, a threat that has been made numerous times before.
Earlier Tuesday, Trump suggested the U.S. could “solve” the North Korea issue unilaterally.
“North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A.,” Trump tweeted.
In another tweet, he sought to persuade Xi to put pressure on North Korea in exchange for a good trade deal with the U.S. He wrote: “I explained to the President of China that a trade deal with the U.S. will be far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem!”
Trump and other U.S. officials have repeatedly called on China to leverage its status as North Korea’s biggest economic partner and source of food and fuel aid to force Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
China says it is in full compliance with sanctions enacted under U.N. Security Council resolutions. In February, China suspended imports of coal from North Korea — a key source of foreign currency for Kim Jong Un’s hard-line Communist regime.
However, Beijing also says it will not countenance measures that could bring about a collapse of the regime that could release a flood of refugees across its border, destabilize northeast Asia and result in a U.S.-friendly government taking power in Pyongyang.