France, and the European “populist wave”, may be fixed for now, but geopolitical concerns remain as was made clear last night when during a phone call late on Sunday between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Donald Trump, the North Korean neighbor called for all sides to “exercise restraint” as Japan conducted exercises with a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group headed for Korean waters. China, which has repeatedly called for the de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula, is “increasingly worried” the situation could spin out of control, leading to war and a chaotic collapse of North Korea, something we cautioned over two months ago.
Xi told Trump on the phone that China resolutely opposed any actions that ran counter to U.N. Security Council resolutions, the Chinese foreign ministry said quoted by Reuters. China “hopes that all relevant sides exercise restraint, and avoid doing anything to worsen the tense situation on the peninsula”, the ministry said in a statement, paraphrasing Xi. The nuclear issue could only be resolved quickly with all relevant countries pulling in the same direction, and China was willing to work with all parties, including the United States, to ensure peace, Xi said.
A potential risk catalyst is just hours away: North Korea prepares to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its Korean People’s Army on Tuesday. It has marked similar events in the past with nuclear tests or missile launches.
That said, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said the call between the two presidents was the latest manifestation of their close communication, which was good for both of their countries and the world.
On Sunday, Trump also spoke by telephone with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who later described the conversation 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 should play a large role in dealing with it.
According to Reuters, a Japanese official said the phone call between Trump and Abe was not prompted by any specific change in the situation. Envoys on the North Korean nuclear issue from the United States, South Korea and Japan are due to meet in Tokyo on Tuesday. The U.S. government has not specified where the carrier strike group is, but U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Saturday it would arrive “within days”.
Meanwhile, South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun gave no details about the South’s plan to join the approaching U.S. carrier group for exercises, apart from saying Seoul was holding discussions with the U.S. Navy. “I can say the South Korean and U.S. militaries are fully ready for North Korea’s nuclear test,” Moon said. South Korean and U.S. officials have feared for some time that North Korea could soon carry out its sixth nuclear test.
As reported on Friday, satellite imagery analyzed by 38 North, a Washington-based North Korea monitoring project, found some activity 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.
Adding to the already tense situation, North Korea detained a U.S. citizen on Saturday as he attempted to leave the country. The arrest will be a topic of discussion when Trump hold a top level briefing with Senators on April 26.
As a reminder, Trump sent a carrier group for exercises in waters off the Korean peninsula as a warning, amid growing fears North Korea could conduct another nuclear test in defiance of United Nations sanctions.
Angered by the approach of the USS Carl Vinson carrier group, a defiant North Korea said on Monday the deployment was “an extremely dangerous act by those who plan a nuclear war to invade”. “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 on Monday.
“What’s only laid for aggressors is dead bodies,” the newspaper said.
Two Japanese destroyers have joined the carrier group for exercises in the western Pacific, and South Korea said on Monday it was also in talks about holding joint naval exercises.