China proposes deal to ease tensions over North Korean missiles

China warned of a "head-on collision" Wednesday unless North Korea stops launching banned missiles and the United States and South Korea halt their joint military exercises.

"The two sides are like two accelerating trains coming toward each other, with neither side willing to give way," Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in Beijing at his annual news conference for the opening of the National People's Congress, China's parliament.

"The question is: Are the two sides really ready for a head-on collision?" Wang said. "Our priority now is to flash the red light and apply brakes on both trains."

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Inside North Korea's secretive missile program
A missile is carried by a military vehicle during a parade to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the signing of a truce in the 1950-1953 Korean War, at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang July 27, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Lee (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY ANNIVERSARY)
Engineers check the base of Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket sitting on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang April 8, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY)
A North Korean scientist looks at a monitor showing the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, at the satellite control centre of the Korean Committee of Space Technology on the outskirts of Pyongyang April 11, 2012. North Korea said on Wednesday it was injecting fuel into a long-range rocket ahead of a launch condemned by its neighbours and the West. The launch is set to take place between Thursday and next Monday and has prompted neighbours such as the Philippines to re-route their air traffic. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
A soldier stands guard in front of the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket sitting on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang April 8, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
North Korean soldiers salute in a military vehicle carrying a missile during a parade to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the signing of a truce in the 1950-1953 Korean War, at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang July 27, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Lee (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY ANNIVERSARY)
Ko Yun-hwa (L), Administrator of Korea Meteorological Administration, points at where seismic waves observed in South Korea came from, during a media briefing at Korea Meteorological Administration in Seoul, South Korea, January 6, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A sales assistant watches TV sets broadcasting a news report on North Korea's nuclear test, in Seoul, January 6, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Workers construct a new nuclear reactor in the North Korean village of Kumho in this file photo taken August 7, 2002. The United States urged North Korea December 21, 2002 not to restart a nuclear reactor suspected of being used to make weapons-grade plutonium. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that North Korea had disabled surveillance devices the agency had placed at the five-megawatt Nyongbyong reactor. REUTERS/Lee Jae-won/File Photo LJW/RCS/AA
A passenger walks past a television report on North Korea's nuclear test at a railway station in Seoul February 12, 2013. North Korea conducted a nuclear test on Tuesday, South Korea's defence ministry said, after seismic activity measuring 4.9 magnitude was registered by the U.S. Geological Survey. The epicentre of the seismic activity, which was only one km below the Earth's surface, was close to the North's known nuclear test site. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji (SOUTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
A scientist stands beside the Kwangmyongsong-3 application satellite, to be put onto the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang April 8, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY)
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The cautionary remarks follow a significant rise in tensions after North Korea fired four banned ballistic missiles into Japanese waters on Monday. The North Korean government has threatened to conduct more missile tests in response to the annual two-month exercises between the United States and South Korea, which are under way through April.

Wang proposed that the United States and South Korea suspend the exercises in exchange for North Korea's suspension of missile launches. The pause, he said, would give all sides breathing room to "bring the parties back to the negotiating table" on the way to "denuclearizing the [Korean] peninsula."

"We have to walk on both legs, which means not just implementing sanctions but also restarting talks," he said.

The timing of Wang's comments is notable, coming just a day after the United States confirmed that it has begun shipping components of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system to South Korea.

While the United States insists that the system, known as THAAD, is aimed solely at defending South Korea from North Korean missiles, China has denounced it as a "clear, present and substantive threat to China's security interests."

Wang called THAAD the biggest issue affecting China-[South Korean] relations at the moment," saying, "Clearly deploying THAAD is a wrong choice. ...

"To continue my railway metaphor, China will continue to be a switchman," he said. "We will switch the issue back onto the track of seeking a negotiated settlement."

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