- Associated Press - Thursday, April 27, 2017

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said Thursday that China has threatened to impose sanctions on North Korea if it conducts further nuclear tests.

“We know that China is in communications with the regime in Pyongyang,” Mr. Tillerson said on Fox News Channel. “They confirmed to us that they had requested the regime conduct no further nuclear test.”

Mr. Tillerson said China also told the U.S. that it had informed North Korea “that if they did conduct further nuclear tests, China would be taking sanctions actions on their own.”

Earlier Thursday, the senior U.S. Navy officer overseeing military operations in the Pacific said the crisis with North Korea is at the worst point he’s ever seen, but he declined to compare the situation to the Cuban Missile Crisis decades ago.

“It’s real,” Adm. Harry Harris Jr. said during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Adm. Harris said he has no doubt that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un intends to fulfill his pursuit of a nuclear missile capable of striking the U.S. The admiral acknowledged there’s uncertainty within U.S. intelligence agencies over how far along North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are. But Adm. Harris said the uncertainty is over “when,” not “whether.”

“There is no doubt in my mind,” Adm. Harris said.

In an interview with Reuters news agency Thursday, Mr. Trump said that while the U.S. would prefer to solve the issues diplomatically, “there is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely.”

The Trump administration has declared that all options, including a targeted military strike, are on the table to block North Korea from carrying out threats against the U.S. and its allies in the region. But a pre-emptive attack isn’t likely, U.S. officials have said, and the administration is pursuing a strategy of putting pressure on Pyongyang with assistance from China.

With international support, the Trump administration said Thursday it wants to exert a “burst” of economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea that yields results within months to push the communist government to change course from developing nuclear weapons.

China is North Korea’s only ally, having saved the communist regime via its intervention in the Korean War, and is its principal trading partner. The sanctions already imposed by Beijing are costing Pyongyang dearly.

Earlier this spring, China announced that coal imports would cease for the rest of the year, pursuant to United Nations sanctions it had helped pass.

The North Korean capital is also being hit by an acute shortage of gasoline that has sparked price hikes and hoarding — and driving rumors that China is to blame.

The shortage, which is extremely unusual, if not unprecedented, began last week when signs went up at gas stations around the city informing customers that restrictions on sales would be put in place until further notice.

Prices, meanwhile, have shot up. They had been fairly stable, typically at about 70 to 80 cents a kilogram, but on Wednesday at least one station was charging $1.40. One kilogram is roughly equivalent to one liter, so a gallon at the station now costs about $5.30.

China supplies most of energy-poor North Korea’s fuel, and in lieu of official explanation, rumors are rife that Beijing is behind the shortage.

Though trade between North Korea and China appears to be solid, there are indications Beijing has been quietly tightening enforcement of some international sanctions aimed at getting Pyongyang to abandon its development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

Limiting the oil supply has been openly discussed in Beijing as one option.

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