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North Korea the 'biggest threat to humankind' right now, top US diplomat says

  • North Korea is the biggest threat to the humankind right now and China and the U.S. can stop it, the U.S. Ambassador to China told CNBC
  • The comments come amid rising diplomatic tensions surrounding the Korean Peninsula

North Korea is the biggest threat to humankind right now and China and the U.S. can stop it, the U.S. ambassador to China told CNBC.

"What's happening with (North Korea's) illegal and aggressive development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles ... This is the biggest threat to humankind right now," Ambassador Terry Branstad told CNBC in Beijing on Wednesday.

While U.S. Ambassador Branstad praised China for adopting United Nations Security Council motions for more sanctions to be imposed on North Korea, following yet another ballistic missile test by the nation last week, he said more could be done.

"I want to compliment the Chinese for the changes they've made in the last three months, they've supported both of the resolutions passed by the United Nations Security Council and I believe they're working hard to enforce the sanctions," he said.

"But I think there's still more that needs to be done. We need to keep on working together and we share the conviction that we need to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, and China and America can play a key role in working with the rest of the world."

Branstad's comments come after relations between China and the U.S. appeared to thaw following a high-profile visit by President Donald Trump to the Asian superpower in November.

The visit came amid rising diplomatic tensions surrounding the Korean Peninsula and a war of words between the U.S. and North Korea over the Communist regime's missile launches and nuclear weapons development.

North Korea has repeatedly defied international sanctions and warnings not to continue ballistic missile launches and tests of nuclear weapons.

China is stuck in the middle as it is a traditional ally of North Korea, is its largest trading partner and would not like to see regime change in North Korea. But it also wants to preserve stability in the region and has tired of its bellicose neighbor's repeated defiance of warnings to stop its missile tests.

Branstad echoed Trump's comments that China should cut off its energy exports to North Korea to get the regime's attention.

People watch a television news screen showing pictures of US President Donald Trump (C) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (R) at a railway station in Seoul on November 29, 2017.
Jung Yeon-Je | AFP | Getty Images
People watch a television news screen showing pictures of US President Donald Trump (C) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (R) at a railway station in Seoul on November 29, 2017.

"Oil is certainly one of the things that we believe economically could get their (North Korea's) attention, and getting their attention is what we need to do to convince them that the course they're on is a destructive course that is not going to lead to protecting North Korea's interests but one that's going to led to their demise," he said.

"They need to get back to the bargaining table by saying they're not going to conduct any more missile launches or nuclear tests and thereby there's an opportunity to try to come up with a diplomatic solution to this dangerous situation," he warned.