China has proposed that North Korea suspend its nuclear and missile activities in exchange for a halt in joint military drills conducted by the US and South Korea.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi said escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula were like "two accelerating trains, coming toward each other with neither side willing to give way".
Mr Wang asked: "Are the two sides really ready for a head-on collision?"
He added that, as a first step to defusing the looming crisis, the North might suspend its nuclear and missile activities if the US and South Korea halt their military exercises.
Mr Wang said the "suspension-for-suspension can help us break out of the security dilemma and bring the parties back to the negotiating table".
China has been stepping up pressure on North Korea, its once-close Communist ally, to give up its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.
Last month, Beijing suspended all coal imports from North Korea for the rest of the year.
China is North Korea's largest source of trade and aid, and the move deprives the North of an important source of foreign currency.
Beijing wants the US in return to restart long-stalled negotiations with North Korea to ease regional tensions.