Donald Trump has declared he will offer China a more favourable trade deal in exchange for Beijing's help in dealing with the nuclear threat from North Korea.
The US president said on Wednesday night he was confident Xi Jinping, the Chinese president would support America over Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions, but repeated that he was prepared to tackle the crisis alone if needed.
Tensions are escalating sharply over fears that North Korea may carry out another nuclear test on Saturday.
Washington has sent a navy strike group led by the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson to the region, joined by Japanese warships.
Mr Trump has described the force as an “armada”. The president also said that submarines were being sent which were “far more powerful than the aircraft carrier”.
Mr Trump said he would not declare China to be a currency manipulator, despite having repeatedly pledged to do so, in a report due this week and that the focus should now be on cooperation with Beijing.
"President Xi wants to do the right thing. We had a very good bonding, I think we had a very good chemistry together, I think he wants to help us with North Korea," Mr Trump told the Wall Street Journal.
"We talked trade, we talked a lot of things, and I said the way you're going to make a good trade deal is to help us with North Korea, otherwise we're just going to go it alone, that'll be all right too, but going it alone means going with lots of other nations."
In a surprise move, China last night abstained rather than joining Russia in vetoing a UN security council resolution condemning the use of chemical weapons in Syria's Idlib province.
Mr Trump said it was "wonderful" that China, who traditionally supports the Russian position on Syria, had abstained and that the US was "honoured by that vote".
A unnamed Trump administration official later reportedly said that the relationship Mr Trump developed with Mr Xi during his state visit to the president's Mar-a-Lago resort last week had played a role in China's abstention from the UN vote.
Mr Xi urged a “peaceful resolution to tensions” over North Korea in a telephone conversation with Mr Trump on Wednesday.
The call came as an influential state-run Chinese newspaper warned that the Korean peninsula was the closest it had been to a “military clash” since North Korea’s first nuclear test in 2006.
There are fears that North Korea could carry out a nuclear test on Saturday, which is the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the founder of the nation. The North has carried out five nuclear tests since 2006, two of them last year.
Mr Trump sent a tweet on Tuesday that warned that the US would “solve the problem” unilaterally if China was not willing to help.
Chinese media said Mr Xi told Mr Trump in yesterday’s telephone call that China would maintain “communication and co-ordination” with Washington over the North Korean issue.
“President Xi made it clear that China wants a Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons, as well as a peaceful resolution to tensions,” the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported.
North Korean media responded to Mr Trump’s threat by warning of a nuclear strike. The official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said: “Our revolutionary strong army is keenly watching every move by enemy elements with our nuclear sight focused on the US invasionary bases not only in South Korea and the Pacific operation theatre but also in the US mainland.”
Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, said that Pyongyang had been put “clearly on notice” by Mr Trump but he dismissed the North’s nuclear threat. “I think there is no evidence that North Korea has that capability at this time,” he said.
However, Japan, alarmed at Pyongyang’s military build-up, is planning to conduct exercises with the Vinson strike carrier group in waters close to its territory, Reuters and several Japanese outlets reported yesterday.
Meanwhile, China’s Global Times newspaper said that Mr Trump’s threat to act had become more credible following Washington’s cruise missile strikes against a Syrian air base that the Pentagon said was used to store chemical weapons.