China says the situation in the Korean Peninsula is now at a “critical juncture” after the UN Security Council on Saturday approved new US-drafted sanctions on North Korea.
The new sanctions could slash by a third North Korea's $3 billion annual export revenue as it bans the country's exports of coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore, and seafood and prohibits countries from hiring North Korean laborers.
North Korea has been under UN sanctions since 2006 but they have failed to dissuade the country from pursuing its ballistic missile and nuclear programs which it views as a deterrent against possible military invasion by the US and its regional allies.
On Saturday, White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said the United States is preparing for all options, including a “preemptive war,” to stop North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
Tensions have escalated under President Donald Trump threatening a war and sending B-1 bombers capable of nuclear attacks near the North Korean border which has enraged Pyongyang.
US Sen. Lindsey Graham said last week that President Trump was willing to go to war with North Korea to stop it from being able to hit the American mainland with a nuclear weapon.
Last month, North Korea tested intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) which US experts acknowledged for the first time that could hit many parts of the United States.
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, whose country voted for the new sanctions, on Sunday warned against any move which could escalate the crisis further, urging diplomatic and peaceful means to avoid tensions.
He called on all parties involved to seriously consider China's dual suspension proposal, whereby North Korea halts its nuclear and missile tests and for South Korea and the United States to stop joint military drills.
"This is currently the most realistic and plausible initiative and it is the most reasonable and friendly solution," he said.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley ruled that out on Saturday, saying Washington would continue to take "prudent defensive measures," including joint military drills with South Korea.
Wang said there was now a "high level of sensitivity and complexity" that had hurt China's relations with North Korea.
Trump has been pressuring Beijing to act against Pyongyang, calling past American leaders "foolish" who had allegedly allowed China to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade and yet do nothing for the US with North Korea.
On Saturday, the tough-talking Trump commended China and Russia for their support on the US-drafted resolution ramping up sanctions on North Korea, saying he "appreciates" their votes.
It is not clear yet how North Korea will respond to the votes. On Sunday, China's foreign minister met his North Korean counterpart Ri Hong-Yo in the Philippine capital Manila and urged Pyongyang to make a "smart decision."
Wang called for a resumption of the stalled six-nation talks -- hosted by China and including the United States, Japan, Russia as well as the two Koreas.
"It's not that easy but it is a direction we need to work together towards," Wang said of the six-nation talks. "Only dialog and negotiation is the correct way out to address the Korean peninsula issue."
Washington, however, stuck to its tough tone, with Ambassador Haley saying the stiffer measures had brought sanctions on North Korea "to a whole new level" and put North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un "on notice".
Trump signed a congressional bill into law on Wednesday, imposing tougher sanctions against North Korea along with Russia, and Iran. China reacted to the measure, saying it was opposed to the new law.
South Korea also sought to tone down the harsh rhetoric by its ally, with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-Wha expressing hope that the two Koreas could hold negotiations.