04/13/2013 02:07 EDT | Updated 06/13/2013 05:12 EDT

U.S., China to push for easing of Korean nuclear tensions

The United States and China agreed on Saturday to push for the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, following weeks of threatening rhetoric from North Korea.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in China on Saturday and met with the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping. He also held talks with China's top diplomat, State Councillor Yang Jiechi.

"We maintain that the issue should be handled and resolved peacefully through dialogue and consultation. To properly address the Korea nuclear issue serves the common interests of all parties. It is also the shared responsibility of all parties," Yang told journalists at a joint news conference with Kerry in Beijing.

Kerry said the two countries underscored their "joint commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in a peaceful manner."

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Kerry began the two-day visit with hopes that China — North Korea's only major ally — would pressure the North to ease up on its belligerent tone and drop its threats of nuclear attack on South Korea and the United States.

The visit comes amid speculation that North Korea is about to test-fire a missile.

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Foreign affairs analyst Eric Margolis told CBC News on Saturday that the "chance of an accidental clash that escalates into a war" was becoming more of a possibility.

"The [North Korean] military is taking on it's own role in this," said Margolis. "The Pentagon [dismissed] North Korea a year ago saying the missles were a fake. Now comes a report that maybe they can fit nuclear warheads on top of those so-called fakes."

Margolis said the White House has gotten a lot more "apprehensive" over the past week.

"A single phone call from Washington to [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-un could quiet things down," he said.

"North Korea is not a paper tiger."

The southeast Asian country has increased tensions throughout the region with a series of threatening statements and actions over the past several weeks, including the decision to move missiles into coastal positions.

While visiting Seoul, Kerry voiced his support for a future unified Korea, one that would almost certainly spell the end to North Korea's current regime and would presumably be loyal to Washington.

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So far, that's a development that neither North Korean leader Kim Jong-un nor China wish to see.

"It seems China is not ready to abandon this long-time ally for strategic reasons, because otherwise China itself could become more isolated," the CBC's Catherine Mercier reported from Seoul.

A senior U.S. defence official on Friday said the United States sees a "strong likelihood" that North Korea will launch a test missile in coming days in defiance of international calls for restraint.

The effort is expected to test the North's ballistic missile technologies, not a nuclear weapon, said the official, who was granted anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

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Unless the missile unexpectedly heads for a U.S. or allied target, the Pentagon does not plan to try to shoot it down, several officials said.

As a precaution, the U.S. has arrayed in the Pacific a number of missile defence Navy ships, tracking radars and other elements of its worldwide network for shooting down hostile missiles.