Xi calls for restraint after Trump says US is ‘locked and loaded’

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North Korean youths and workers and trade union members hold a rally to protest the UN Security Council’s “sanctions resolution” at the compound of the Monument to Party Founding in Pyongyang on Friday. — AFP

SEOUL — Chinese President Xi Jinping made a plea for cool-headedness over escalating tensions between the US and North Korea in a phone conversation with US President Donald Trump on Saturday, urging both sides to avoid words or actions that could worsen the situation.

The call came after Trump unleashed a slew of fresh threats against North Korea on Friday, declaring the US military “locked and loaded” and warning North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that he “will regret it fast” if he takes any action against US territories or allies.

Trump has pushed China to pressure North Korea to halt a nuclear weapons program that is nearing the capability of targeting the United States. China is the North’s biggest economic partner and source of aid, but says it alone can’t compel Pyongyang to end its nuclear and missile programs.

State-run China Central Television quoted Xi as telling Trump the “relevant parties must maintain restraint and avoid words and deeds that would exacerbate the tension on the Korean Peninsula.”

But restraint was not the word of the day on Friday as Trump sent out a cascade of unscripted statements, including what appeared to be another red line — the mere utterance of threats — that would trigger a US attack against North Korea and “big, big trouble” for Kim.

North Korea’s Minju Joson newspaper, meanwhile, lashed back at the US in an editorial on Saturday.

“The powerful revolutionary Paektusan army of the DPRK, capable of fighting any war the US wants, is now on the standby to launch fire into its mainland, waiting for an order of final attack,” it said. DPRK stands for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The tough talk capped a week in which long-standing tensions between the countries risked abruptly boiling over.

New United Nations sanctions condemning the North’s rapidly developing nuclear program drew fresh ire and threats from Pyongyang. Trump, responding to a report that US intelligence indicates Pyongyang can now put a nuclear warhead on its long-range missiles, vowed to rain down “fire and fury” if challenged.

The North then came out with a threat to lob four intermediate-range “Hwasong-12” missiles near Guam, a tiny US territory some 3,200 km from Pyongyang.

At the epicenter of the rhetoric, Trump’s New Jersey golf course, the president seemed to put Kim on notice, saying, “If he utters one threat in the form of an overt threat — which by the way he has been uttering for years and his family has been uttering for years — or he does anything with respect to Guam or anyplace else that’s an American territory or an American ally, he will truly regret it and he will regret it fast.”

Asked if the US was going to war, he said cryptically, “I think you know the answer to that.”

Trump also brushed away calls for caution from other world leaders, including Germany’s Angela Merkel.

“I don’t see a military solution and I don’t think it’s called for,” Merkel said on Friday, calling on the UN Security Council to continue to address the crisis.

“I think escalating the rhetoric is the wrong answer,” Merkel added.

“Let her speak for Germany,” Trump said, when asked about the comment. “Perhaps she is referring to Germany. She’s certainly not referring to the United States, that I can tell you.” — AP


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