China has called for calm in the dispute over North Korea's proposed nuclear weapons test. This follows North Korea’s fresh threat to attack South Korea if it were to support tighter UN sanctions.
China's comments came in a regular ministry briefing on Friday.
The United States, meanwhile has condemned the leadership of North Korea after it threatened to conduct a third nuclear test and further rocket launches. It also imposed fresh sanctions on the Stalinist state.
Speaking to reporters at the White House on Thursday, spokesman Jay Carney described the statement issued by Pyongyang earlier in the day as "needlessly provocative" and said that any new nuclear test "would be a significant violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions."
He also said that "further provocations would only increase Pyongyang's isolation" from the rest of the international community.
The defense secretary, Leon Panetta, struck a similar tone, saying that the US was "fully prepared" to deal with any provocation from North Korea. At the same time though, he said the Pentagon had "no outward indications" that Pyongyang planned to conduct a new test anytime soon, but that there was no guarantee.
"They have the capability, frankly, to conduct these tests in a way that make it very difficult to determine whether or not they are doing it," Panetta told reporters.
Also on Thursday, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions a Hong-Kong based trading company, which it accuses of being an agent for a North Korean mining company that is said to be Pyongyang's main arms dealer. It also blacklisted Beijing-based representatives of a North Korean bank.
"Our actions today target two North Korean entities, Tanchon Commercial Bank and KOMID, that are part of the web of banks, front companies and government agencies that support North Korea's continued proliferation activities," David Cohen, the Treasury's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence said.
Germany joined the United States in its condemnation of Pyongyang's threat to carry out a further nuclear test. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also described the move as a "provocation" and called on North Korea to refrain from "irresponsible conduct" that could only serve to increase tensions in the region.
The two Western allies were reacting to an announcement from North Korea's highest military body earlier in the day, in which it not only said that it would conduct a further nuclear test, but that this would be targeted at the United States.
This came two days after the UN Security Council expanded sanctions against Pyongyang in response to the launch of a long-range missile last month, which was banned under already existing sanctions.
pfd/dr ( AFP, Reuters)