China warns against inflammatory rhetoric on North Korea

Beijing calls for dialogue on ‘complex’ situation after Donald Trump’s ‘fire and fury’ threat

China has warned against dangerous rhetoric that could inflame tension in the Korean nuclear crisis, in a stern response to US president Donald Trump's dire "fire and fury" threat against North Korea.

“The current situation on the Korean continent is complex and sensitive,” the foreign ministry in Beijing said in a statement.

“China calls on all relevant sides to uphold the broad direction of resolving the North Korean nuclear issue through political means, avoid remarks and actions that could aggravate conflicts and make a greater effort to promote the issue through dialogue and negotiations,” the ministry said.

The Chinese response came after Mr Trump told reporters at the Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey on Tuesday that any further threats by North Korea would “be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen”.


Mr Trump's language in many ways mirrored that of the sabre-rattling phrases used by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and set alarm bells ringing in an already jittery region.

The North Koreans responded by warning of possible action near the US territory of Guam in the Pacific, shortly after reports Pyongyang had managed to develop the technology to successfully miniaturise a nuclear warhead.

This has long been a nightmare scenario for the Americans as it means North Korea’s newly tested intercontinental ballistic missiles may be capable of reaching the continental US.

The ominous rhetoric has ratcheted up since the United Nations imposed a seventh set of economic sanctions on North Korea.

Beijing backed the sanctions and has said it would “bear the brunt” of the economic costs. As North Korea’s only ally, China has been put in a difficult position by Mr Kim’s programme of nuclear expansion, facing pressure from Mr Trump to do more to rein in its ideological comrade, but also keen to restrain Washington’s influence in the region.

Military drills

Pyongyang says its missile programme is protection against US efforts to force regime change in North Korea, which include tactics such as joint military drills with South Korea.

"The US insistence on a stopping of nuclear activity as a pre-condition for talks are seen by some in the US as a way of preventing the reward for 'bad behaviour', but this position is counter-productive and ignores the North's perspective that this is a pillar of its survival," said Karl Dewey, an analyst who specialises in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear assessments at the defence researcher Jane's by IHS Markit.

“There are also practical complications in verifying that the North has stopped its nuclear and missile activities. North Korea will likely better respond to calls for talks when such terms are dropped and, from their perspective, talks are based on equal terms,” said Mr Dewey.

Minxin Pei, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, said Washington and Beijing were on a "dangerous collision course" over North Korea.

"As containing North Korea's nuclear ambitions is a shared security interest of the US and China, Beijing will be merely doing itself a favour by partnering with the US," Mr Pei wrote in the Nikkei Asian Review.

“That it may have to be forced to do so with threats of costly secondary sanctions only underscores how long-held but erroneous geopolitical tenets and assumptions have led Chinese policymakers down a dangerous path of collision with the US,” he said.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing