Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for all sides to exercise restraint in a call about North Korea with United States President Donald Trump, as Japan conducted joint drills with a US aircraft carrier strike group headed for Korean waters.
The carrier group was sent by Trump for exercises in waters off the Korean peninsula as a warning, amid growing fears North Korea could conduct another nuclear test soon in defiance of United Nations sanctions.
Angered by the approach of the US carrier group, a defiant North Korea said yesterday the deployment of the USS Carl Vinson was "an extremely dangerous act by those who plan a nuclear war to invade the North".
"The United States should not run amok and should consider carefully any catastrophic consequence from its foolish military provocative act," Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the North's ruling Workers' Party, said in a commentary yesterday.
"What's only laid for aggressors is dead bodies and deaths," the newspaper said.
Two Japanese destroyers have already joined the carrier group for drills in the western Pacific, and South Korea said yesterday that it was also in talks about holding joint naval exercises.
Washington and its allies fear Pyongyang could be preparing to conduct another nuclear missile test or launch more ballistic missiles.
China is increasingly worried the situation could spin out of control, leading to war and a chaotic collapse of its isolated and poverty-struck neighbour.
Xi told Trump that China resolutely opposes any actions that run counter to UN Security Council resolutions, a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement said.
China "hopes that all relevant sides exercise restraint, and avoid doing anything to worsen the tense situation on the peninsula", the statement paraphrased Xi as saying.
The nuclear issue could be resolved quickly only with all relevant countries pulling in the same direction, and China was willing to work with all parties, including the US, to ensure peace, Xi said.
The issue has gained added urgency as North Korea prepared to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its Korean People's Army today. It has marked similar events in the past with nuclear tests or missile launches.
Earlier, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe described his conversation with Trump as a "thorough exchange of views".
"We agreed to strongly demand that North Korea, which is repeating its provocation, show restraint," Abe told reporters.
"We will maintain close contact with the United States, keep a high level of vigilance and respond firmly," he said.
Abe also said he and Trump agreed that China, North Korea's sole major ally, should play a large role in dealing with Pyongyang.
A Japanese official said the call between Trump and Abe was not prompted by any specific change in the situation.
The US government has not specified where the carrier strike group is, but US Vice-President Mike Pence said at the weekend that it would arrive "within days".
Satellite imagery analysed by 38 North, a Washington-based North Korea monitoring project, found some activity under way at North Korea's Punggye-ri nuclear test site last week.
However, the group said it was unclear whether the site was in a "tactical pause" before another test or was carrying out normal operations.