Military force cannot resolve tension over North Korea, China said on Thursday, as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned that Pyongyang may be capable of firing a missile loaded with nerve gas toward Japan.
With a US aircraft carrier group steaming to the area and tension rising, South Korea said it believed the United States would consult it before any preemptive strike against the North.
Fears have been growing that the reclusive North could soon conduct its sixth nuclear test or more missile launches in defiance of UN sanctions and stark warnings from the United States that a policy of patience was over.
China, North Korea’s sole major ally and benefactor, which nevertheless opposes its weapons program, has called for talks leading to a peaceful resolution and the denuclearization of the peninsula.
“Military force cannot resolve the issue,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in Beijing.
“Amid challenge there is opportunity. Amid tensions we will also find a kind of opportunity to return to talks.”
Trump has diverted the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group towards the Korean peninsula, which could take more than a week to arrive, in a show of force aimed at deterring North Korea from conducting another nuclear test or launching more missiles to coincide with important events and anniversaries.
“Whoever provokes the situation, whoever continues to make trouble in this place, they will have to assume historical responsibility,” Wang said.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told parliament in Seoul he believed Washington would consult Seoul if it was considering a preemptive strike. The United States has about 28,500 troops in South Korea.
An influential state-backed Chinese newspaper said the best option for North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong Un, was to give up its nuclear program, and China would protect it if it did.
“As soon as North Korea complies with China’s declared advice and suspends nuclear activities … China will actively work to protect the security of a denuclearized North Korean nation and regime,” said an editorial in the Global Times, which is published by the Communist party’s People’s Daily.
A Washington-based think-tank that monitors North Korea, 38 North, said satellite images on Wednesday showed activity around the North’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site on the east coast that indicated it was ready for a new test.
South Korean officials said there were no new signs to indicate a test was more likely, although they also said the North appeared ready to conduct a test at any time.
Abe meanwhile warned that North Korea may be capable of firing a missile equipped with sarin nerve gas.
“There is a possibility that North Korea is already capable of shooting missiles with sarin as warheads,” Abe told a parliamentary panel on national security and diplomacy.
A senior Japanese diplomat said the United States was putting “maximum pressure” on North Korea to resolve issues peacefully while putting responsibility on China to sway its old ally.
Abe was responding to a question about Japan’s readiness at a time of increased regional tension. A US navy aircraft carrier is heading toward the Korean Peninsula as Pyongyang prepares for the 105th anniversary of the birth of its founder Kim Il Sung this weekend.
While Japan did not see a high risk of military action, it expected to be consulted by the United States if it decided to attack. North Korea has about 350 missiles that can hit Japan.