Warsaw - US President Donald Trump said Thursday he was considering a “pretty severe” response to North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile test, even as China appealed for a scaling down of rhetoric.

In a further sign of divisions after Tuesday’s launch - a milestone in Pyongyang’s drive to threaten the US mainland with a nuclear strike - Russia blocked a UN Security Council statement calling for fresh sanctions.

The United States had led the push for tougher sanctions, and Trump has also warned he is ready to use force if necessary. “I call on all nations to confront this global threat and publicly demonstrate to North Korea that there are consequences for their very, very bad behaviour,” Trump said during a visit to Warsaw.

“I have pretty severe things that we’re thinking about,” Trump said, adding: “That doesn’t mean that we’ll do them.”

The launch of the missile, which experts say could reach Alaska or even further towards the continental US, is set to be a key issue at the G20 summit in Germany that begins Friday with the leaders of the US, China and South Korea in attendance.

It poses a thorny policy challenge for Trump, who is at loggerheads with Beijing over how to handle Kim Jong-Un’s regime. Trump has repeatedly urged Pyongyang’s chief backer Beijing to rein the Stalinist state in, taking to Twitter this week to publicly berate Beijing for not squeezing the North hard enough on trade. China responded Thursday with a call for more moderate language from all sides.

“We also call on relevant parties to stay calm, exercise restraint, refrain from words and deeds that may heighten tensions,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters.

Russia blocks UN statement

Washington had made a hard-hitting call in the UN Security Council on Wednesday for tougher sanctions against Pyongyang after the missile test.

But Russia blocked a Security Council statement Thursday calling for “significant measures” in response, signalling that it might not back a final resolution putting fresh sanctions in place.

China’s President Xi Jinping stressed that the best way to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons was through dialogue and negotiations, the Xinhua news agency reported.

South Korean President Moon Jae-In said his previous offer for talks with Kim was still on the table despite the missile test, saying it was “dangerous” if there was “no dialogue whatsoever”.

“When the conditions are met, I am prepared to meet the North Korean ruler wherever and whenever,” he told an audience in Berlin. But he has also called for a response to the test beyond “just words”, prompting a joint missile drill with its ally the US aimed at countering threats from the North.

Trump had dismissed the idea of North Korea having a working ICBM, vowing it “won’t happen”. The test has sent jitters through global stock markets, with Asian and European shares falling on Thursday.

‘We had to try’

Beijing insists it has made “relentless efforts” to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions in line with UN economic sanctions. China decided to stop buying North Korean coal in February and total imports from the North have steadily dropped every month from $207 million in January to $99 million in April.

But official Chinese customs data shows a 37.4 percent rise in yuan terms in overall trade with North Korea and 30.6 percent in US dollars in the first quarter.

“Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40%... so much for China working with us - but we had to give it a try!” Trump tweeted on Wednesday.

For China, the worst-case scenario is a collapse of the regime in Pyongyang, which could see an influx of refugees from its impoverished neighbour, and worse yet, US troops stationed on its border in a united Korea.

Trump had until recently nurtured friendly ties with Xi, hosting him at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida in April, when they agreed on a 100-day plan to improve trade relations.

Beijing’s spokesman Geng defended his country’s dealings with North Korea, insisting that China has upheld UN sanction resolutions “in a comprehensive and earnest manner”. But, he added, sanctions “should not harm the livelihood and normal humanitarian need of the DPRK,” using the initials of North Korea’s official name. Multiple sets of UN sanctions have failed to derail the North’s weapons programmes.

In a hard-hitting address to the UN Security Council, US Ambassador Nikki Haley said Tuesday’s ICBM test had made “the world a more dangerous place,” and that Washington was ready to use force if need be to deal with the threat of a nuclear-armed Pyongyang.

US prepared to use

force: UN envoy

The United States cautioned on Wednesday it was ready to use force if need be to stop North Korea’s nuclear missile program but said it preferred global diplomatic action against Pyongyang for defying world powers by test launching a ballistic missile that could hit Alaska.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told a meeting of the UN Security Council that North Korea’s actions were “quickly closing off the possibility of a diplomatic solution” and the United States was prepared to defend itself and its allies. “One of our capabilities lies with our considerable military forces. We will use them if we must, but we prefer not to have to go in that direction,” Haley said. She urged China, North Korea’s only major ally, to do more to rein in Pyongyang.

Speaking with his Japanese counterpart on Wednesday, US Defense Secretary James Mattis underscored the “ironclad commitment” of the United States to defending Japan and providing “extended deterrence using the full range of US capabilities,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement. Mattis’ assurances to Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada came during a phone call to discuss the North Korean test, the statement said. Taking a major step in its missile program, North Korea on Tuesday test launched an intercontinental ballistic missile that some experts believe has the range to reach the US states of Alaska and Hawaii and perhaps the US Pacific Northwest. North Korea says the missile could carry a large nuclear warhead.

The missile test is a direct challenge to US President Donald Trump, who has vowed to prevent North Korea from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear missile. He has frequently urged China to press the isolated country’s leadership to give up its nuclear program. Haley said the United States would propose new UN sanctions on North Korea in coming days and warned that if Russia and China did not support the move, then “we will go our own path.”

She did not give details on what sanctions would be proposed, but outlined possible options. “The international community can cut off the major sources of hard currency to the North Korean regime. We can restrict the flow of oil to their military and their weapons programs. We can increase air and maritime restrictions. We can hold senior regime officials accountable,” Haley said.

Diplomats say Beijing has not been fully enforcing existing international sanctions on its neighbor and has resisted tougher measures, such as an oil embargo, bans on the North Korean airline and guest workers, and measures against Chinese banks and other firms doing business with the North. “Much of the burden of enforcing UN sanctions rests with China,” Haley said.