Authorities in the northeastern Chinese province of Liaoning are seeking to expand their pool of Korean-language interpreters and translators amid growing military tensions on the Korean peninsula.
The bureau of foreign affairs in Liaoning's Dandong city, which lies just across the Yalu River from North Korea, issued a directive indicating that Chinese officials are setting up a team of interpreters and translators working with Korean.
The order requires police, state security police, customs, border guards, and port officials to "build an emergency Korean translation personnel team" to be led by the bureau.
Meanwhile, Chinese state media reports quoted a foreign affairs bureau official surnamed Song as saying that the order falls within "normal working requirements" for the bureau, which include emergency preparedness.
The background preparations, possibly aimed at managing a huge influx of refugees across the border in the event of armed conflict in North Korea, came as Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi called for an end to forthcoming military exercises between a U.S. aircraft carrier and the South Korean armed forces.
Wang said that while Pyongyang's continuing nuclear tests are "a clear violation of UN resolutions," persisting with military maneuvers around the peninsula "is not in the spirit of the resolutions either."
"Security and stability are very fragile at the moment, and the danger is great of a new conflict breaking out at any time," Wang told a news conference with German counterpart Sigmar Gabriel.
"We can't risk even a one percent possibility of war," he said, warning that a conflict would have "unimaginable consequences."
"Therefore, we call on all sides to be prudent and refrain from any actions or words that could lead to new provocations," he said, as U.S. troops began delivering the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system to South Korea amid fears Pyongyang may be preparing a sixth nuclear test.
Conflict now possible
U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly called on China to do more to rein in its traditional ally, while Pyongyang insists it needs nuclear weapons to protect itself from what it says is the ever-present threat of invasion by hostile U.S. forces.
Meanwhile, the senior U.S. Navy officer overseeing military operations in the Pacific, Adm. Harry Harris Jr., said the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and its accompanying battle group is capable of defending itself against any incoming North Korean attacks.
Seoul and Washington carry out annual joint military exercises, saying that they are purely defensive in nature.
Professor Liang Yunxiang of Beijing University's School of International Relations said that any nuclear test by North Korea at this juncture could precipitate military conflict with the U.S., as the entire U.S. Senate were called to a White House briefing on the situation on Wednesday.
"I think if they really do carry out a test, that there is a likelihood this could start a war," Liang told RFA. "If they do it now, during the U.S.-South Korean military drills, while the U.S. aircraft carrier is in the region, then North Korea will definitely be seeking to provoke the U.S."
"China is still trying to play the role of mediator, or rather the U.S. and South Korea are hoping to use China and Russia to exert pressure on the North," he said. "The best-case scenario is that all sides stand down without a fight, but if China can't manage that, then it will have failed, and there really is a likelihood of war."
A Dandong resident who declined to be named said that the atmosphere in the city remains calm in spite of growing tensions.
"It's not particularly tense right now, or at least I haven't noticed it," the resident said. "[The North Koreans] are the Communist Party's problem. How would ordinary citizens know anything about it?"
Standoff to continue
Beijing-based political commentator Zha Jianguo told RFA that the standoff looks set to continue indefinitely.
"There is a possibility that North Korea will make slight adjustments to its nuclear and ballistic missile testing schedule in response to the current situation," Zha said. "But they're going to start it up again eventually."
"I think it's safe to predict that they won't give up their nuclear program, regardless of how much military pressure or economic sanctions they are under, or how much we negotiate with them."
"None of these things will achieve the goal of denuclearization [of the Korean peninsula]," Zha said.
Hong Kong-based North Korea expert Chung Lok-wai agreed, saying the North is now working hard to find a way to miniaturize its nuclear weapons to fit them to a long-range ballistic missile.
"They are moving in the direction of ballistic missiles and the miniaturization of nuclear warheads," Chung told RFA on Tuesday. "North Korea is moving in the direction of getting both of those things to work together."
He said recent measures made by seismographs during North Korean nuclear tests indicated that their nuclear arsenal is becoming more and more powerful.
"Their nuclear capabilities have been expanding continually during the past few years," Chung said.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Goh Fung for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.