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China warns against force over N. Korea

Reuters BEIJING/PYONGYANG (Reuters) — Military force cannot resolve tension over North Korea, China said Thursday, while an influential Chinese newspaper urged the North to halt its nuclear program in exchange for Chinese protection.

Concerns have been growing that North Korea could soon conduct a sixth nuclear test or more missile launches in defiance of U.N. sanctions and stark warnings from the United States that a policy of patience was over.

With a U.S. aircraft carrier group steaming to the area in a show of force and tensions rising, fears of a confrontation have been rising.

China, North Korea’s sole major ally and neighbor, 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 tensions we will also find a kind of opportunity to return to talks.”

While U.S. President Donald Trump has put North Korea on notice that he would not tolerate any provocation, U.S. officials have said his administration was focusing its strategy on tougher economic sanctions.

Trump said on Thursday Pyongyang was a problem that “will be taken care of” and that he believed Chinese President Xi Jinping would “work very hard” to help resolve the challenge.

Trump has also said the United States is prepared to tackle the crisis without China, if necessary.

Trump diverted the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group toward the Korean Peninsula last weekend in a show of force to try to deter North Korea from conducting another nuclear test or launching more missiles to coincide with important events and anniversaries.

But a senior Trump administration official described as “flat wrong” an NBC News report, citing senior U.S. intelligence officials as saying the United States is prepared to launch a pre-emptive conventional weapons strike should officials be convinced North Korea was about to follow through with a nuclear weapons test.

Another U.S. official also dismissed the report, calling it “speculative at best.”

The Pentagon declined comment, saying, as a policy, it does not discuss future operations “nor publicly speculate on possible scenarios.”

Scores of foreign journalists are gathered in Pyongyang for North Korea’s biggest national day, the “Day of the Sun,” marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of state founder Kim Il Sung on Saturday.

They were taken to what officials billed as a “big and important event” early on Thursday which turned out to be the opening of a new street in the centre of the capital, attended by current leader Kim Jong Un.

In 2012, two days before the centenary of Kim Il Sung’s death, it tried but failed to launch a long-range rocket carrying a satellite. It tested a newly developed intermediate-range missile on the anniversary last year, a launch that also failed.

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 and U.S. officials and the think tank have been saying for weeks that North Korea could test a sixth bomb at any time.

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