Chinese President Xi Jinping has made a plea for cool-headedness over escalating tensions between the US and North Korea.

In a phone conversation with US President Donald Trump on Saturday, he urged both sides to avoid words or actions that could worsen the situation.

The call came after Mr Trump unleashed a slew of fresh threats against North Korea, declaring the US military “locked and loaded” and warning North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that he “will regret it fast” if he takes any action against US territories or allies.

Mr Trump has pushed China to pressure North Korea to halt a nuclear weapons program that is nearing the capability of targeting the United States.

China is the North’s biggest economic partner and source of aid, but says it alone cannot compel Pyongyang to end its nuclear and missile programs.

State-run China Central Television quoted Mr Xi as telling Mr Trump the “relevant parties must maintain restraint and avoid words and deeds that would exacerbate the tension on the Korean Peninsula”.

President Xi Jinping spoke to Mr Trump by telephone (PA)
President Xi Jinping spoke to Mr Trump by telephone (PA)

But restraint was not the word of the day on Friday as Mr Trump sent out a cascade of unscripted statements, including what appeared to be another red line – the mere utterance of threats – that would trigger a US attack against North Korea and “big, big trouble” for Kim.

North Korea’s Minju Joson newspaper, meanwhile, hit back at the US in an editorial on Saturday.

“The powerful revolutionary Paektusan army of the DPRK, capable of fighting any war the US wants, is now on the standby to launch fire into its mainland, waiting for an order of final attack,” it said. DPRK stands for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The tough talk capped a week in which long-standing tensions between the countries risked abruptly boiling over.

North Korea estimated missile ranges
(PA graphics)

New United Nations sanctions condemning the North’s rapidly developing nuclear program drew fresh ire and threats from Pyongyang.

Mr Trump, responding to a report that US intelligence indicates Pyongyang can now put a nuclear warhead on its long-range missiles, vowed to rain down “fire and fury” if challenged.

The North then came out with a threat to lob four intermediate-range “Hwasong-12” missiles near Guam, a tiny US territory some 3,200 km (2,000 miles) from Pyongyang.

At the epicentre of the rhetoric, Mr Trump’s New Jersey golf course, the president seemed to put Kim on notice, saying: “If he utters one threat in the form of an overt threat – which by the way he has been uttering for years and his family has been uttering for years – or he does anything with respect to Guam or any place else that’s an American territory or an American ally, he will truly regret it and he will regret it fast.”

Asked if the US was going to war, he said: “I think you know the answer to that.”

But his comments did not appear to be backed by significant military mobilisation on either side of the Pacific, and an important, quiet diplomatic channel remained open. As a precaution, Japan deployed missile defence batteries under the path a North Korean missile might take.

US officials say they will be going ahead with long-scheduled military exercises with South Korea from August 21-31. Pyongyang says it will be ready to send its missile launch plan to Kim for approval just before or as the drills begin.

North Korea claims the exercises are a rehearsal for war, but Washington and Seoul say they are necessary to deter North Korean aggression.