Xi stresses China's North Korea concerns in talk with Trump

Donald Trump, Xi JinpingThe Associated Press
FILE - In this April 7, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping walk together after their meetings at Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Fla. China says President Xi has stressed the need for an end to North Korea's nuclear weapons program in a phone discussion with Trump that followed tweets from the U.S. president urging China to play a more active role. Xi told Trump that China insists on peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and advocates resolving the problem through peaceful means. He said China would maintain "communication and coordination" with Washington over it. The two leaders spoke Tuesday night, April 11, 2017, Washington time. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Beijing is willing to work with Washington on ending North Korea's nuclear weapons program but wants a peaceful solution to the escalating conflict, Chinese President Xi Jinping told President Donald Trump in a phone call Wednesday.

Xi's comments came after Trump tweeted that China should do more on an issue that Washington sees as an increasingly urgent threat, or else the U.S. would go it alone.

China's calls for calm come as tensions have risen with the dispatch of a U.S. aircraft carrier to the area and the deployment of thousands of U.S. and South Korean troops, tanks and other weaponry for their biggest-ever joint military exercises.

During their phone call, Xi told Trump that China is willing to continue working with the U.S. on denuclearization, according to a brief description of the call released by the Chinese foreign ministry.

"China insists on realizing the denuclearization of the peninsula, insists on maintaining peace and stability on the peninsula, and advocates resolving the problem through peaceful means," Xi was quoted as saying.

The two leaders spoke Tuesday night Washington time after Trump said an "armada" of vessels including the USS Carl Vinson carrier was steaming to waters off the Korean Peninsula in a show of force.

Trump tweeted Wednesday: "Had a very good call last night with the President of China concerning the menace of North Korea."

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regular briefing in Beijing on Wednesday that it was a "good thing" that the two leaders were in touch again days after meeting in Florida.

Regarding the U.S. Navy strike force's arrival in the western Pacific, Lu said: "We hope all parties will refrain from irresponsible actions that would be very dangerous at the moment."

North Korean state media has warned of a nuclear attack on the United States in retaliation for any signs of aggression, a threat that has been made numerous times before.

Earlier Tuesday, Trump suggested the U.S. could "solve" the North Korea issue unilaterally.

"North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A.," Trump tweeted.

In another tweet, he sought to persuade Xi to put pressure on North Korea in exchange for a good trade deal with the U.S. He wrote: "I explained to the President of China that a trade deal with the U.S. will be far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem!"

Trump and other U.S. officials have repeatedly called on China to leverage its status as North Korea's biggest economic partner and source of food and fuel aid to force Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

China says it is in full compliance with sanctions enacted under U.N. Security Council resolutions. In February, China suspended imports of coal from North Korea — a key source of foreign currency for Kim Jong Un's hard-line Communist regime.

The U.S. and other foreign governments have long overestimated China's ability to affect Pyongyang's behavior, said Ruan Zongze, a U.S. relations expert at the China Institute of International Studies, a think tank run by the foreign ministry.

"There's a view that China possesses the key to solving the peninsula problem, or that China has the faucet and that all China has to do is shut it off and the peninsula issue is solved," Ruan said.

"In fact, I think the outside exaggerates the sort of role China can play. China isn't really as influential as all that," he said.

Beijing's insistence on a peaceful approach to resolving the issue is rooted in its belief that any attempt to denuclearize the North by force would bring cataclysmic results upon all sides, including China, Ruan said.

"When it comes to the issue of the Korean Peninsula, violence is not an option," he said.

Beijing says it will not countenance measures that could bring about a collapse of the regime that could release a flood of refugees across its border, destabilize northeast Asia and result in a U.S.-friendly government taking power in Pyongyang.