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US-North Korea tensions show signs of winding down

SEOUL - Tensions between the US and North Korea showed signs of winding down, with Pyongyang backing off from its threat to fire missiles toward Guam as Washington ratcheted up pressure on China to rein in its wayward ally.

After being briefed by the military about plans for missile launches, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he would watch the conduct of the US "a little more" before deciding whether to order the firings, Pyongyang's state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Tuesday.

"The United States, which was the first to bring numerous strategic nuclear equipment near us, should first make the right decision and show through actions if they wish to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula and prevent a dangerous military clash," Kim was cited as saying by the KCNA.

"If the Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions on the Korean Peninsula and in its vicinity, testing the self-restraint of (North Korea), the latter will make an important decision as it already declared," the report added.

Despite their tone, the comments were seen as an indication that the regime might hold off its plan to conduct "enveloping strikes" toward Gaum by firing four intermediate range ballistic missiles around the waters near the US island.

In its latest stern warning against the North, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Monday it would be "game on" for war if North Korea fired missiles that hit US territories, but refused to specify what the US would do if the missile were launched.

In what is seen as an effort to pressure China to rein in North Korea's nuclear program, US President Donald Trump signed an executive action that asks his trade office to explore a possible investigation into China for the alleged theft of American technology and intellectual property.

Describing it as "just the beginning" of measures targeting China, Trump instructed government officials to dig into Chinese practices that force US companies to share their intellectual property in order to gain access to the world's second-largest economy.

"The theft of intellectual property by foreign countries costs our nation millions of jobs and billions and billions of dollars each and every year," Trump said. "For too long, this wealth has been drained from our country while Washington has done nothing. ... But Washington will turn a blind eye no longer."

China criticized the measure as a violation of global rules and vowed to "resolutely safeguard" its interests. The Chinese Commerce Ministry said Tuesday that Beijing would take "all appropriate measures" if Chinese companies are hurt.

The move was largely aimed to induce China to tighten pressure on North Korea. China has announced a plan to cut off imports of North Korean coal, iron ore and other goods under UN sanctions imposed over the North's nuclear and missile programs. The ban came into effect Tuesday.

Seeking to present a united front against North Korea and its supporters, Trump on Tuesday held a telephone call with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and agreed that the allies' priority is how to halt North Korea's missile launches.

"Through a firm partnership between Japan and the US and cooperating with China, Russia and the international community, we agreed that our priority was to work to ensure that North Korea doesn't launch more missiles," Abe told reporter after he spoke to Trump.

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