Japan is preparing to send several warships to join a US aircraft carrier strike group heading for the Korean peninsula, in a show of force designed to deter North Korea from conducting further missile and nuclear tests.

Citing two well-placed sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, Reuters and the Kyodo news agency said several destroyers from Japan’s maritime self-defence forces would join the USS Carl Vinson and its battle group as it enters the East China Sea.

The move comes as the Chinese president called for calm in the region in a phone conversation with Donald Trump.

China “is committed to the goal of denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula, safeguarding peace and stability on the peninsula, and advocates resolving problems through peaceful means,” Xi Jinping said, according to CCTV, the state broadcaster.

The call came after a series of tweets in which Trump pressed China to be more active in pressuring North Korea to abandon its nuclear programme.

In a pair of tweets, Trump linked trade deals and the future of the US-China relationship to progress on reining in the regime’s nuclear programme.

The US president wrote:

 

In another tweet, Trump said he had told Xi any trade deal between the two countries would be “far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem”.

The US aircraft carrier was redeployed from a planned visit to Australia and is sailing north from Singapore towards the Korean peninsula, as speculation mounts that Pyongyang is planning more missile launches to coincide with national anniversaries this month.

North Korea watchers believe the regime could conduct missile tests on or around the 105th anniversary of the birth of the state’s founder, Kim Il-sung, on Saturday, or on the 85th anniversary of the ruling Korean People’s Army on 25 April.

China is the North’s only key diplomatic ally and its largest trading partner, providing a lifeline to the reclusive state.

There are signs China is taking steps to squeeze North Korea and its erratic leader, Kim Jong-un. Chinese authorities have ordered trading companies to return North Korean coal shipments and banned all imports in late February. Continue..