x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

China's Xi warns against regional chaos amid Korea tensions

No country should be allowed to instigate regional chaos, the Chinese president says, after North Korea increases threats to attack the US and South Korea and warns of pre-emptive nuclear strikes.

BEIJING // No country should be allowed to instigate regional chaos, the Chinese president said yesterday after North Korea's mounting threats to attack the US and South Korea included warnings of pre-emptive nuclear strikes.

"No one should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gains," Xi Jinping said. "While pursuing its own interests, a country should accommodate the legitimate interests of others."

China, North Korea's biggest trading partner, has advocated talks to ease tensions that escalated after Kim Jong-un's regime detonated a nuclear device in February in defiance of tightened United Nations sanctions. The US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, last week said Washington is pushing Mr Xi's government to "do more" to rein in its ally. In an effort to reduce strains, the US delayed a test of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

"While President Xi didn't refer to North Korea, it is fair" to interpret his comments as directed towards the Korean situation, said Fang Xiuyu, a professor of Korean studies at Fudan University. "Xi's remarks are the most decisive comments so far from the Chinese side of the issue."

The US has decided to postpone a test of a Minuteman III intercontinental missile in California to avoid exacerbating the situation, according to a defence department official who asked not to be named. The defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, made the decision to reschedule the test, which will probably be next month, the official said.

China is "seriously concerned" about the rising tensions and will safeguard the rights and safety of its citizens in North Korea, the foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said. The Chinese embassy in Pyongyang is under normal operations, he added.

His statement came after North Korea last week asked countries including Russia and the UK to consider evacuating their embassies from the capital, warning that they can't be protected. North Korea told South Korean companies in the jointly run Kaesong industrial complex to leave by Wednesday.

South Korea said yesterday that Mr Kim's regime may fire a missile on or around that date. The president, Park Geun-hye, is ready for any provocation, a government spokesman said.

While China and the US last month agreed on tougher UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea after its nuclear test, American officials have travelled to Beijing to seek commitment on implementation.

"Clearly, with the border that they have, with the economic relationship that they have, they can do more," Ms Rice said on Friday.

The Obama administration is seeking "a de-escalation of these tensions", she said, adding that the US wants to convey the message that it can defend itself and its allies without "getting too jumpy".

In his speech yesterday, Mr Xi also said that the right of countries to independently choose their social systems and development paths should be respected and that non-Asian countries should respect Asian diversity. Countries from outside Asia are welcome to play a constructive role in regional stability and development, Mr Xi said.

His admonition against regional disorder "is a tough warning to the Kim regime not to escalate tensions", said Willy Lam, an adjunct professor of history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

"I think this warning also has implications for the US and South Korea to cool it a little bit and not to provoke the Kim regime."