China on Thursday welcomed an apparently softer tone by the United States on the North Korean nuclear and missile crisis but stressed its opposition to a U.S. missile defense system being deployed in South Korea.
China has long promoted dialogue to resolve the "Korean nuclear issue" as North Korea has repeatedly threatened to destroy the United States which in turn has warned that "all options are on the table" in ending North Korean provocations.
The Trump administration said on Wednesday it aimed to push North Korea into dismantling its nuclear and missile programs, which are in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, through tougher international sanctions and diplomatic pressure.
"The United States seeks stability and the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. We remain open to negotiations toward that goal. However, we remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies," it said in a statement.
Asked about the U.S. comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China had noted that many U.S. officials had recently made such remarks.
"We have noted these expressions, and have noted the message conveyed in these expressions hoping to resolve the Korean nuclear issue peacefully through dialogue and consultation," he said.
"We believe this message is positive and should be affirmed."
South Korea and the United States agreed on Thursday on "swift punitive measures" against North Korea in the event of further provocation. The South also said the deployment of a U.S. anti-missile defense system was moving ahead effectively a day after angry protests against the battery and fierce opposition from China.
South Korea on Wednesday moved parts of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to its deployment site on a golf course about 250 km (155 miles) south of the capital, Seoul, signaling a faster installation of the system.
Several hundred South Korean villagers protested near the site, hurling water bottles at vehicles moving the parts in.
CHINA AGAIN DENOUNCES THAAD
The top U.S. Commander in the Pacific, Admiral Harry Harris, said on Wednesday the THAAD system would be operational "in coming days" bolstering the ability to defend the U.S. ally and the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed there.
A photograph taken of the site showed a THAAD interceptor on the back of a mobile launcher erected and pointed skywards on green lawn as a military transport helicopter hovered nearby.
China says the system's advanced radar can penetrate deep into its territory and undermine its security. It is adamant in its opposition.
"The deployment of the THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea damages the regional strategic balance and stability. The Chinese side is resolutely opposed to this," Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told reporters.
"China’s military will continue to carry out live-fire military exercises and test new military equipment in order to firmly safeguard national security and regional peace and stability."
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats described North Korea on Wednesday as "an urgent national security threat and top foreign policy priority".
The U.S. signal of a willingness to exhaust non-military avenues came as the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group approached Korean waters, where it will join the USS Michigan nuclear submarine.
North Korea, which conducted its biggest ever artillery exercise to mark the 85th anniversary of its military's creation on Tuesday, says it needs to develop weapons to defend itself from U.S. aggression.
A North Korean official speaking on CNN said the country would not be influenced by outside events.
"As long as America continues its hostile acts of aggression, we will never stop nuclear and missile tests," said Sok Chol Won, director of the North's Institute of Human Rights at the Academy of Social Sciences.
Moon Jae-in, the front-runner in South Korea's May 9 presidential election, has called for a delay in THAAD deployment, saying a decision should be made after gathering public opinion and more talks with Washington.