A member of the Chinese People’s Armed Police stands guard near red flags at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China. (Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg)

Xi Urges Restraint on North Korea in Phone Call With Trump

(Bloomberg) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping called for restraint on North Korea in a phone call with Donald Trump, who also spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as the U.S. and Japan began joint naval drills in the region.

Xi -- in his second confirmed phone conversation with Trump since their summit this month -- urged all parties to avoid any actions that might exacerbate tensions on the Korean Peninsula, state broadcaster China Central Television said Monday. Abe told reporters following a separate call with Trump that he had praised the U.S. leader’s policy of keeping all options on the table for countering the North Korean threat.

Abe said Japan had begun naval exercises with the USS Carl Vinson, an aircraft carrier leading a strike group into the region. South Korea is also considering whether to conduct drills with the U.S. naval flotilla, which embarked for the Korean Peninsula after initial confusion about an itinerary that first saw it bound for joint exercises with Australia.

Speculation is once again mounting over whether North Korea will conduct a sixth nuclear test Tuesday to mark a key date on the nation’s calendar -- this time the 85th anniversary of the Korean People’s Army. The regime refrained from carrying out a test when it celebrated the birth date of its founder Kim Il Sung earlier this month, instead unsuccessfully launching a ballistic missile.

In his call with Xi, “Trump criticized North Korea’s continued belligerence and emphasized that Pyongyang’s actions are destabilizing the Korean Peninsula,” the White House said in a statement Monday.

North Korea may have resumed work at its Punggye-ri nuclear test site, according to analysis of satellite imagery by 38 North, a program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies that studies the nation’s nuclear activities.

“I said I had high regard for President Trump’s ability to use actions and words to show that all options are on the table,” Abe told media including public broadcaster NHK in Tokyo. “We were in complete agreement that we would need to continue to firmly urge restraint by North Korea, given that it has continued these dangerous provocations.”

On Xi’s call with Trump, he said China firmly opposed any action that violates United Nations Security Council resolutions, and called for regular China-U.S. contact in what he described as a rapidly changing international situation, according to CCTV. Trump said he hopes to meet Xi in person again soon, following their summit at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, and looks forward to a state visit to China, CCTV reported.

‘Strengthen Coordination’

The White House said in its statement that Trump and Xi agreed to “strengthen coordination” to achieve denuclearization on the Korean peninsula.

Kim Jong Un’s regime is seeking to develop the ability to fire a nuclear warhead as far as North America, justifying the program as a deterrent against attack. Trump has been trying to get China to do more to bring its neighbor and ally into line, saying last week that he had “absolute confidence” that Xi could help solve the issue.

China’s willingness to press North Korea has sparked a battle between the nations’ media outlets. Without referring to China by name, North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said April 21 that “the country is talking rubbish that the DPRK has to reconsider the importance of relations with it” and that China was “dancing to the tune” of the U.S. DPRK is an abbreviation for North Korea.

In response, China’s Communist Party-affiliated Global Times newspaper wrote in a commentary that “no matter how many articles KCNA publishes, whatever future measures North Korea takes, Beijing’s stance wouldn’t be affected.” If North Korea conducts a nuclear test, “Beijing will undoubtedly support the UN in adopting tougher sanctions against it, including oil embargo,” said the newspaper, which is known for its nationalistic views.

KCNA also denounced the U.S.’s aircraft carrier deployment. “Such intimidation and blackmail can never frighten the DPRK,” it said, adding that the country “will react to a total war with an all-out war.”

Envoys from the U.S., South Korea and Japan are scheduled to meet in Tokyo on Tuesday to discuss ways to deter any additional provocation from North Korea and secure a constructive role for China, South Korea’s foreign ministry said last week.

Meanwhile, reports emerged that North Korea had detained a U.S. citizen, bringing to three the number of Americans being held in the isolated country. Tony Kim, also known by his Korean name Kim Sang-duk, was detained on Saturday, the Associated Press reported, citing Park Chan-mo, the chancellor of the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.

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