The United States and North Korea are like two speeding trains set for a "head-on collision", China's foreign minister warned yesterday.
Wang Yi urged both sides to avert a "looming crisis" on the Korean peninsula, where missile tests by Pyongyang and joint military exercises by South Korea and the US were raising tensions.
"The two sides are like two accelerating trains coming towards each other," Mr Wang told reporters in Beijing. "The question is, are the two sides really ready for a head-on collision?"
Mr Wang said China was playing the role of the signalman, adding: "Our priority is to flash the red light and apply brakes on both trains."
The diplomat used frank language to call for a halt in North Korea's nuclear weapons programme, which he said was being pursued "in violation of UN Security Council resolutions".
"Holding nuclear weapons won't bring security, using military force won't be a way out," Mr Wang said, on the sidelines of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's parliament. "There remains a chance of resuming talks, there is still hope for peace."
He said Pyongyang should drop its weapons programme in exchange for the US and South Korea halting military exercises. "To defuse the looming crisis on the peninsula, China proposes that as a first step, North Korea may suspend its nuclear and missile activities in exchange for the halt of the large-scale US-South Korea exercises," Mr Wang said.
Such a "dual suspension" would allow all sides to return to the negotiating table. Mr Wang borrowed a phrase from Communist China's founder, Mao Tse-tung, saying that China and North Korea remained as close as "lips and teeth".
He said that As a neighbour, Beijing understands it should help to resolve tensions in the region. But he added: "The nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula is mainly between North Korea and other states".
North Korea fired four ballistic missiles into the sea off Japan's north-west coast early on Monday, in an apparent angry response to the joint US-South Korean drills, which began last week.
Meanwhile, the US said on Tuesday that it had begun deploying an anti-missile system in South Korea which is directed towards the nuclear-armed North.
Beijing and Russia oppose the system, which is known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD), as they see it as a threat to their own security interests. (© Daily Telegraph London)