The North Korean government called the latest military drills by the U.S. and South Korea a "grave provocation" on Monday, adding to regional and global fears that President Donald Trump's aggressive actions at a time of heightened tensions could endanger civilian lives.
The U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marines are participating in war games involving more than 200 American planes and 12,000 military personnel this week, days after North Korea tested its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) to date.
In commentary published in North Korea's state-run newspaper Rodung Sinmun on Sunday, the government of Kim Jong-un warned that the drills would bring tensions "to the brink of nuclear war."
In a separate statement, they said "insane President Trump is running wild," and added, "The U.S. and South Korean puppet warmongers would be well advised to bear in mind that their DPRK-targeted military drill will be as foolish as an act precipitating their self-destruction."
North Korea offered a "dual suspension" deal earlier this year, saying it would freeze its nuclear development in exchange for an end to military drills by the U.S. and South Korea, a possibility South Korea, China, and several foreign policy experts supported but which the Trump administration, backed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson rejected.
"It is regrettable that all parties did not grasp the window of opportunity China had previously appealed for," said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi as the military exercises began.
China has also expressed doubts about the increasingly severe sanctions the U.S. has proposed for North Korea. The sanctions have impacted the isolated country's coal exports and other industries, limiting its trade capacity and leading to concerns about humanitarian impacts.
"China has a bottom line: 'Don’t affect the life of the North Korean people, on humanitarian principles,'" Song Xiaojun, a former Chinese government officer, told the Washington Post last week after Trump announced plans for new sanctions.
"Measures that don't abide by or are outside the U.N. Security Council resolutions lack basis in international law and damage the rights of United Nations members," Wang said of imposing harsher sanctions.
In light of the renewed threats from North Korea, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called on the Pentagon to bring home the families of more than 28,000 U.S. military personnel who are stationed in South Korea, to remove family members' from harm's way if North Korea takes military action.
The heightened concerns echo those of anti-nuclear advocates that have warned against further escalation of tensions between Washington and Pyongyang. Pope Francis in recent weeks has advocated for serious consideration of abolishing all nuclear weapons, as a U.N. treaty signed by 53 countries put forth last summer. The treaty was not signed by the U.S. or any other nations with nuclear arsenals.
Over the weekend, Pope Francis told reporters that the possession of nuclear weapons by any nation, including the U.S., is "irrational," saying, "We're at the limit of licitly having and using nuclear arms. Why? Because today, such sophisticated nuclear arsenals risk destroying humanity or at least a great part of it."