President Trump, China's Xi Jinping talk North Korea as tension builds over nuclear threat

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping called for a peaceful resolution of rising tension on the Korean peninsula in a telephone conversation with U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday, as a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group steamed towards the region.

Trump's call with Xi, just days after they met in the United States, came as an influential state-run Chinese newspaper warned that the Korean peninsula was the closest it has been to a "military clash" since North Korea's first nuclear test in 2006.

The communication between the leaders underscores the increasing sense of urgency as tension escalates amid concern that reclusive North Korea could soon conduct a sixth nuclear test, or more missile launches, and Trump's threat of unilateral action to solve the problem.

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U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump welcome Chinese President Xi Jinping and Madame Peng Liyuan for dinner at the start of their summit at Trump?s Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S. April 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
US First Lady Melania Trump awaits the arrival of Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan at the Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach, Florida, on April 6, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump welcome Chinese President Xi Jinping and first lady Peng Liyuan at Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump welcome Chinese President Xi Jinping and first lady Peng Liyuan at Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump attend a dinner accompanied by first ladies Peng Liyuan (2nd-L) and Melania Trump (R) at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump welcome Chinese President Xi Jinping and first lady Peng Liyuan at Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump welcome Chinese President Xi Jinping and first lady Peng Liyuan at Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
US First Lady Melania Trump (R) and US President Donald Trump (C) await the arrival of Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan at the Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach, Florida, on April 6, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
US First Lady Melania Trump (R) and US President Donald Trump (2nd R) welcome Chinese President Xi Jinping (2nd L) and his wife Peng Liyuan (L) to the Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach, Florida, on April 6, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
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Trump had ordered the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group to head to the Korean peninsula in an attempt to deter North Korea's nuclear and long-range missile ambitions, which it is developing in defiance of U.N. resolutions and sanctions.

Trump pressed Xi to do more to curb North Korea's nuclear programme when they held their first face-to-face meeting in Florida last week.

He said on Twitter on Tuesday that North Korea was "looking for trouble" and the United States would "solve the problem" with or without China's help.

In their telephone call, Xi stressed that China "is committed to the target of denuclearization on the peninsula, safeguarding peace and stability on the peninsula, and advocates resolving problems through peaceful means", Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, who said Trump had initiated the call, urged everyone to lower the tension.

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"We hope that the relevant parties do not adopt irresponsible actions. Under the current circumstances, this is very dangerous," Lu told reporters at a regular press briefing.

China's Global Times newspaper said in an editorial North Korea should halt any plan for nuclear and missile activities "for its own security". While widely read in China and run by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, the Global Times does not represent government policy.

The newspaper noted Trump's recent decision to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airfield in response to a deadly gas attack last week.

"Not only is Washington brimming with confidence and arrogance following the missile attacks on Syria, but Trump is also willing to be regarded as a man who honours his promises," it said.

"The U.S. is making up its mind to stop the North from conducting further nuclear tests. It doesn't plan to co-exist with a nuclear-armed Pyongyang," it said.

"Pyongyang should avoid making mistakes at this time."

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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 Global Times said if North Korea made another provocative move, "Chinese society" might be willing to back unprecedented sanctions, "such as restricting oil imports".

'NOT AFRAID'

North Korean state media warned on Tuesday of a nuclear attack on the United States at any sign of American aggression.

Officials from the North, including leader Kim Jong Un, have indicated an intercontinental ballistic missile test or something similar could be coming.

North Korea launched a long-range rocket carrying a satellite on April 13, 2012, marking the anniversary of the birth of North Korea's founding president Kim Il Sung.

Saturday will be the 105th anniversary of his birth.

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Residents thronged Pyongyang's boulevards on a sunny spring morning, some practicing for a parade to be held on the weekend, with no visible sign of the tension.

"So long as we are with our supreme leader Marshall Kim Jong Un we are not afraid of anything," a woman who gave her name as Ri Hyon Sim told Reuters journalists, who were escorted by North Korean officials.

Russia has said it is worried about the possibility of a U.S. attack on North Korea and it would raise the issue with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Russian media quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying.

Earlier on Wednesday, two sources in Tokyo said Japan's navy planned exercises with the Carl Vinson carrier group in a joint show of force.

Japan's Maritime Self Defence Force and the U.S. Navy could conduct helicopter landings on each other's ships, as well as communication drills, they said.

A senior Japanese diplomat said it appeared the U.S. position was to put maximum pressure on North Korea to reach a solution peacefully and diplomatically.

"At least, if you consider overall things such as the fact that the U.S. government has not put out warnings to its citizens in South Korea, I think the risk at this point is not high," said the diplomat, who declined to be identified.

South Korea's acting president, Hwang Kyo-ahn, has warned of "greater provocations" by North Korea and ordered the military to intensify monitoring.

China's Defence Ministry, in a one-line statement posted on its website, dismissed foreign media reports about a build-up of Chinese troops on its border with North Korea as "pure fabrication".

The North fired a liquid-fuelled Scud missile this month, the latest in a series of tests that have displayed its ability to launch attacks and use hard-to-detect solid-fuel rockets.

North Korea remains technically at war with the United States and its ally South Korea after the 1950-1953 Korean conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. It regularly threatens to destroy both countries.

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