China: Korean tensions at 'tipping point'

Beijing urges US, South Korea to halt military exercises, as White House considers 'all options' after missile launch.

China has warned that tensions on the Korean peninsula have reached a "tipping point" after North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan, a move Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe described as "unprecedented" and a "grave threat" to his country's security.

Hua Chunying, spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry, urged all sides on Tuesday to avoid provocations, repeating Beijing's call for Pyongyang to suspend missile tests, while proposing that the United States and South Korea China halt ongoing joint military exercises.

The situation is "now at a tipping point approaching a crisis. At the same time there is an opportunity to reopen peace talks", Hua told reporters in Beijing.

"We hope relevant parties can consider how we can de-escalate the situation on the peninsula and realise peace and stability on the peninsula," she added.

Hua said "time has proven that pressure and sanctions cannot solve the root of the problem", and that the only way to solve the standoff is by addressing legitimate security concerns through dialogue.

In the early hours of Tuesday, North Korea fired a mid-range ballistic missile designed to carry a nuclear payload that flew over US ally Japan, and splashed into the northern Pacific Ocean.

Following the latest incident, US President Donald Trump issued a statement saying "all options are on the table", as his ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, warned "something serious has to happen" to stop North Korea from making more provocations.

But North Korea appeared to remain defiant, with its ambassador to the UN in Geneva saying that his country will not "flinch an inch" on the road to building a nuclear force as long as "US hostile policies and nuclear threats continue".

Ambassador Han Tae Song told a session of the Conference on Disarmament that his country "has every reason to respond with tough countermeasures".

While making no direct reference to Tuesday's missile test, Han repeated Pyongyang's criticism of the joint US and South Korean military exercises, calling it "a fanatic act of adding fuel to flame".

'Mixed signals'

Following the launch of the missile, Trump held a 40-minute phone call with Japan's Abe to discuss what action to take in response.

In a statement, Abe said "Japan's and the US positions are totally at one", adding that the two leaders were in "total agreement" that an emergency meeting was needed at the UN Security Council to step up pressures on North Korea.

Abe also said that Trump "expressed his strong commitment to defending Japan, saying he was 100 percent with Japan as an ally".

Al Jazeera's Kimberly Halkett, reporting from Washington, DC, said that while the Trump administration continues to "talk tough" on North Korea, it has also been sending mixed signals in recent weeks.

She cited a statement from Steve Bannon, a former top White House aide, who told The American Prospect magazine that that "there is no military solution" to the Korean crisis.  

Ahead of an emergency UN Security Council meeting on Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also issued a statement condemning North Korea's missile launch and called on Pyongyang to comply with its international obligations.

"The launch undermines regional security and stability and efforts to create space for dialogue," a spokeswoman for Guterres said in a statement.

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