British foreign secretary William Hague has moved to play down fears of an imminent conflict involving North Korea.

North Korea, incensed by UN sanctions following its nuclear and missile tests and by South Korean-US military drills, has issued a series of apocalyptic threats of nuclear war in recent weeks.

On Sunday a top South Korean security official said North Korea could test launch a missile this week, as the United States delayed its own missile test due to soaring tensions on the peninsula.

Despite this, Mr Hague has called for the international community to stay calm, saying there are no obvious signs that North Korea is preparing for war.

"It is important to stress that we haven't seen in recent days and recent weeks a change in what is happening in North Korean society, we've not been able to observe that," he said.

"We haven't seen the repositioning of forces or the redeployment of ground forces one might see in a period prior to a military assault or to an all-out conflict.

"That's why I say it's important to keep calm, as well as be firm and united about it."

Mr Hague says there is a danger of what he calls a "miscalculation" by the North Korean leadership and its young leader Kim Jong-un.

"We shouldn't respond to that rhetoric and that presentation of an external threat every time they come out with it," he said.

'On the eve of an explosion'

That thinking seems to have been behind a decision by the US to , in case the show of military might were misinterpreted.

Most analysts think the bluster coming from Pyongyang is just that, but North Korean soldiers appear convinced that war is on the cards.

"As you all know, on the Korean Peninsula it is not a matter of whether we will have a war or not, but whether it will take place today or tomorrow," a North Korean soldier told state media.

"This is a situation like being on the eve of a big explosion.

"Every minute, every second counts. We are right now set to march once the order is given."

Over the weekend North Korea warned it could not in the event of conflict.

The British government says it sees no need at present to remove its embassy staff.

But Mr Hague says that decision is under close review.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has received assurances from Chinese president Xi Jinping that China does not want to see conflict on the Korean peninsula.

Ms Gillard on the sidelines of the Bo'ao Asia Forum on Hainan Island.

She says Australia and China share the same concerns about North Korea.

"The president indicated that he shared those concerns about current tensions on the Korean Peninsula that the priority here is to prevent further escalation and China is urging calm and restraint," Ms Gillard said.

 

Advertisement