BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping urged President Trump to exercise restraint over tensions with North Korea during a phone call Saturday, while also prevailing on the North to avoid escalating the conflict.
After a week of threats and counterthreats between Washington and Pyongyang, Xi urged both sides not to say or do anything that would aggravate tensions, China’s CGTN state television network reported.
But North Korea continued to fuel tension Saturday, with the Rodong Sinmun newspaper reporting that almost 3.5 million people, including students and retired soldiers, have asked to join or rejoin the North Korean military to fight against the United States over the latest sanctions it encouraged through the UN Security Council.
‘‘All the people are rising up across the country to retaliate against the US thousands of times,’’ said the newspaper, the mouthpiece of the ruling Workers’ Party. The report was almost certainly exaggerated, but it showed that the North Korean regime is not backing down in the face of Trump’s threats.
Meanwhile, Japan finished installing surface-to-air missile interceptors in the western prefectures that North Korea said would be in the flight path of any missiles launched toward Guam, where North Korea is threatening an ‘‘enveloping strike.’’
In South Korea, the government began the environmental survey needed to complete deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system — a sign that the liberal government is now trying to expedite the deployment.
In his phone call with Trump, Xi said China hoped the parties concerned would exercise restraint and refrain from taking any action that will aggravate tensions on the peninsula, according to CGTN.
Dialogue, negotiations, and a political settlement are the fundamental ways of solving the Korean Peninsula’s nuclear issue, Xi said during the call.
‘‘The Chinese leader expressed Beijing’s willingness to maintain communication with the US to appropriately resolve the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue,’’ the network reported.
Trump, who is scheduled to visit China later this year, threatened Tuesday to respond to further threats from North Korea by unleashing ‘‘fire and fury like the world has never seen.’’
Pyongyang in turn said it could strike the US territory of Guam in the Western Pacific with ballistic missiles. In his latest salvos in the war of words, Trump said Friday that the US military was ‘‘locked and loaded’’ and that North Korea would ‘‘truly regret it’’ if it attacked Guam.
During a phone call Friday with Eddie Baza Calvo, the Republican governor of Guam, Trump said that the attention would boost tourism ‘‘tenfold.’’ That prompted Margaret Metcalfe, director of Calvo’s Washington office, to say, ‘‘None of this is good publicity.’’
China has repeatedly urged dialogue to lower tensions. Although it supported stiffer United Nations sanctions after repeated North Korean missile tests, Chinese officials also want a restart of six-party talks, which stalled in 2009. Those talks would involve North and South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan.
The war of words has given China the chance to project itself as the voice of reason and restraint while others lose their heads. It argues that Washington’s long-standing belligerence toward North Korea helps explain why the regime has chosen to develop a nuclear weapons program — dodging its own responsibility for propping up the North Korean government.
Xi ‘‘stressed that China and the US share the same interests on the denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula,’’ CGTN said.
But China is deeply resistant to doing anything that could destabilize or topple the regime in Pyongyang, which could lead to the reunification of Korea and put US troops on China’s doorstep.
The Chinese government has worked to prevent a unified Korean state allied to the United States, going all the way back to the 1950-1953 Korean War that saw hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers die. China remains North Korea’s major trading partner, providing the regime’s economic lifeline.
In an editorial on Friday, China’s state owned Global Times newspaper warned that China won’t come to North Korea’s aid if it launches missiles threatening US soil and there is retaliation — but that China would intervene if Washington strikes first.
Two events could provide triggers for another missile launch.
North Korea on Tuesday will celebrate Liberation Day, marking Japan’s defeat in World War II and the end of its colonization of the Korean Peninsula.
Then the United States and South Korea on Aug. 21 will begin joint military exercises, drills that North Korea considers preparation for an invasion.
In announcing that it might simultaneously fire four intermediate-range ballistic missiles over western Japan toward Guam, North Korea listed the prefectures of Hiroshima, Shimane, and Kochi as on the flight path.
The Maritime Self Defense Force, as Japan’s navy is known, already has Aegis destroyers ready to shoot down any missiles flying over, but the Air Self Defense Force on Saturday deployed Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles, which have a range of about 12 miles, to the areas Saturday in case the missiles come down over Japan.
Meanwhile, the South Korean government on Saturday began a formal environmental survey about the THAAD deployment, which has been controversial in the southern rural area where it is stationed.
Liberal president Moon Jae-in, elected in May, had vowed to conduct an environmental review of the deployment, which he had questioned while on the campaign trail. But he now appears to be in a hurry to approve the THAAD system.
Although this battery would not be able to shoot down long-range missiles, it is meant to protect South Korea from other North Korean rockets aimed at them.