BEIJING/Washington - China issued a stern warning Friday that a conflict over North Korea could break out “at any moment”, as Pyongyang vowed a “merciless” response to any US military action.

Tensions in the region have surged to fresh heights in recent days with speculation mounting that the North is preparing a sixth nuclear test. A US naval strike force has been deployed near the Korean peninsula, and President Donald Trump has issued stark warnings that the threat posed by Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme “will be taken care of”.

A clearly rattled China, under pressure from Trump to prevent any North Korean provocation, said the situation had reached breaking point. “One has the feeling that a conflict could break out at any moment,” Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said.

“If a war occurs, the result is a situation in which everybody loses and there can be no winner,” he added during a joint press conference in Beijing with the visiting French foreign minister. Wang’s comments mirrored a warning from the North Korean foreign ministry’s Institute for Disarmament and Peace that “thermo-nuclear war may break out any moment”.

North Korea has invoked similarly dire scenarios on previous occasions when tensions on the Korean peninsula have spiked, but Beijing’s warnings have fuelled international concerns that the current situation is reaching tipping point.

The North’s Korean People’s Army (KPA) added its voice to the bellicose rhetoric on Friday with a statement threatening strikes against US military bases and other targets in South Korea. “The closer such big targets as nuclear powered aircraft carriers come, the greater would be the effect of merciless strikes,” said the statement carried by the North’s official KCNA news agency.

Citing the recent missile strike Trump ordered against Syria - which was widely interpreted as a warning to Pyongyang - the KPA denounced the US president for embarking on a path of “open threat and blackmail” against the North. It also urged Washington to “come to its senses” and find a “proper” solution to the current stand-off.

Trump’s military muscle-flexing was on display again Thursday when the US on dropped the biggest non-nuclear bomb it possesses on Afghanistan, targeting a complex used by the Islamic State group.

The American president has repeatedly said he will prevent Pyongyang from its goal of developing a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile capable of reaching the mainland United States. The US is reportedly ready to launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korea if officials believe Pyongyang is going to go through with a nuclear weapons test.

Citing multiple senior US intelligence officials, NBC News reported that the US is prepared to launch the strike against North Korea with conventional weapons. Officials said a nuclear test could come as soon as this weekend, according to NBC. The US strike could include missiles and bombs, cyber and special operations on the ground, the report said. The danger of such an attack by the US is that it could provoke the volatile and unpredictable North Korean regime to launch its own blistering attack on its southern neighbour.

“The leadership in North Korea has shown absolutely no sign or interest in diplomacy or dialogue with any of the countries involved in this issue,” Victor Cha, the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies told NBC News.

Russia on Friday called for “restraint” over the situation in North Korea, warning against any “provocative steps” after Washington said it was assessing military options in response to the country’s weapons programs.

“Moscow is watching with great concern the escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

“We call for restraint from all countries and warn countries not to pursue actions that could consist of any provocative steps,” he added.

Satellite imagery analysis has noted activity at the North’s main nuclear test site ahead of Saturday’s 105th anniversary of the birth of the country’s founder leader Kim Il-Sung.

The North’s sabre-rattling has encouraged a rapprochement between Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, who met face-to-face for the first time late last week at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

Though his election campaign was marked with acerbic denouncements of China’s “rape” of the US economy, Trump dropped his anti-China bombast in Florida, afterwards hailing an “outstanding” relationship with Xi.

But he insists China - the North’s sole major ally and economic lifeline - must exert more leverage on Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions or suffer the consequences.

Beijing has long opposed dramatic action against the North, fearing the regime’s collapse would send a flood of refugees across its borders and leave the US military on its doorstep.

China’s state broadcaster CCTV announced Friday that Air China - the only foreign carrier operating commercial flights into North Korea - would suspend services to Pyongyang from next week.

The report gave no reason for the suspension, but noted that Air China has taken similar action in the past because of low passenger volumes.

Despite the mounting tensions, there has been little sign of strain on the streets of Pyongyang in recent days, where the focus has been on preparations for Saturday’s anniversary.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un on Thursday unveiled the sprawling Ryomyong street development, a prestige housing project repeatedly promised in time to mark the occasion.

Before the international press and tens of thousands of his adoring citizens, he cut a wide red ribbon to rhythmic cheers, before waving and returning to his Mercedes limousine.

 

 

 

 

 

The US is reportedly ready to launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korea if officials believe Pyongyang is going to go through with a nuclear weapons test.

Citing multiple senior US intelligence officials, NBC News reported that the US is prepared to launch the strike against North Korea with conventional weapons. Officials said a nuclear test could come as soon as this weekend, according to NBC.

The US strike could include missiles and bombs, cyber and special operations on the ground, the report said.

The danger of such an attack by the US is that it could provoke the volatile and unpredictable North Korean regime to launch its own blistering attack on its southern neighbour.

“The leadership in North Korea has shown absolutely no sign or interest in diplomacy or dialogue with any of the countries involved in this issue,” Victor Cha, the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies told NBC News.

The US has two destroyers that can shoot Tomahawk cruise missiles in the area, according to the network. One of the destroyers is located 300 miles from the North Korean nuclear test site.

There are also American heavy bombers located in Guam. Earlier this week, it was reported that the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group was headed to that area.

In a statement Thursday, North Korea issued a warning to the US - should it take action - of a “merciless retaliatory strike.”

“By relentlessly bringing in a number of strategic nuclear assets to the Korean peninsula, the US is gravely threatening the peace and safety and driving the situation to the brink of a nuclear war,” North Korea’s statement said.

US officials said any strike would require South Korea’s permission.

South Korea Foreign Minister Yun Byung said US officials have “repeatedly reaffirmed that” the US “will closely discuss with South Korea its North Korea-related measures.”

“In fact, the US is working to reassure us that it will not, just in case that we might hold such concerns.”

President Donald Trump on Thursday tweeted that he has “great confidence that China will properly deal with North Korea.” “If they are unable to do so, the US, with its allies, will! USA.,” the president tweeted.

 

Meanwhile, China has urged the US and North Korea to step back from the brink of a potentially catastrophic conflict after Pyongyang warned it would not “keep its arms crossed” in the event of a pre-emptive strike.

Speaking in Beijing on Friday, the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, told reporters the region faced a “precarious situation” in which “one has the feeling that a conflict could break out at any moment,” according to media reports.

He made his plea before an anticipated sixth North Korean nuclear test on Saturday to mark the birth of the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung.

“We call on all parties to refrain from provoking and threatening each other, whether in words or actions, and not to let the situation get to an irreversible and unmanageable stage,” Wang said.

“If a war occurs, the result is a situation in which everybody loses and there can be no winner. It is not the one who espouses harsher rhetoric or raises a bigger fist that will win.”

North Korea’s vice-foreign minister, Han Song-ryol, earlier warned it would not “keep its arms crossed” in the event of a pre-emptive US strike and would conduct a nuclear test when it saw fit