Calm before the storm? The USS Carl Vinson transits the South China Sea. Photo: US Navy via Reuters

China warned on Friday that the situation with North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs is at a “critical point” and said dialogue and negotiations are the only “practical” way to end tensions.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi pledged that Beijing would fully implement all UN sanctions on North Korea.

“Due to the recent efforts by the DPRK [North Korea] to accelerate missile and nuclear development, China agrees to the international community to step up efforts of non-proliferation,” Wang told reporter before the council met.

“A peaceful settlement of the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula through dialogue and negotiations represents the only right choice that is practical and viable,” he said.

The Trump administration is focusing its North Korea strategy on tougher economic sanctions, possibly including an oil embargo, a global ban on its airline, intercepting cargo ships and punishing Chinese banks doing business with Pyongyang, US officials told Reuters earlier this month.

Washington is also stepping up pressure that began under the Obama administration against Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia, which have diplomatic and financial links to Pyongyang, to downgrade or cut diplomatic ties with North Korea.

China has long promoted dialogue to resolve the “Korean nuclear issue,” and the United States says it is open to talks, but the two countries disagree over the sequence.

“The US require [North Korea] to take some actual action to curtail their nuclear program, which could then be followed by talks, and the Chinese position is talks first, action later,” said a senior UN diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Since 2006, North Korea has been subject to UN sanctions aimed at impeding the development of its nuclear and missile programs. The council has strengthened sanctions following each of North Korea’s five nuclear tests.

The United States and China have negotiated new sanctions before involving remaining council members. It took the council three months to act after the last nuclear test, in September, and diplomats said Washington appears to be laying the groundwork with China for faster negotiations next time.

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