The US has seen evidence that the Chinese military is preparing "for a potential North Korea contingency", CNN reports citing a US defense official, and adds that Chinese air force land-attack, cruise-missile-capable bombers were put "on high alert" on Wednesday.
The official added that the US has also seen an extraordinary number of Chinese military aircraft being brought up to full readiness through intensified maintenance.
The official said that these recent steps by the Chinese are assessed as part of an effort to "reduce the time to react to a North Korea contingency."
Among the contingency options listed is the "risk of an armed conflict breaking out as tensions on the peninsula have risen in the wake of multiple North Korean missile tests."
There has also been ratcheted up rhetoric from the US and Pyongyang, with the latter's state media warning Thursday that a pre-emptive strike by North Korea would result in the US and South Korea being "completely destroyed in an instant."
Beijing has long been concerned about potential instability in North Korea should the regime in Pyongyang collapse, fearing both an influx of refugees and the potential of reunification under a South Korean government closely allied to the US.
Meanwhile, China remains opposed to the US military's presence in South Korea, protesting the recent US and South Korea decision to begin deploying elements of the THAAD missile defense system.
Given the close economic links between North Korea and China, US military officials have said that Beijing is critical to solving the North Korean situation, with President Donald Trump recently commending Chinese President Xi Jinping for Chinese efforts to curb Pyongyang's activities.
Earlier on Thursday, Nikkei reported that as a form of ratcheting up pressure on North Korea, China may halt crude exports to North Korea should Pyongyang conduct its sixth nuclear test, "signalling a tougher attitude by Beijing."
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Meanwhile, with much confusion over the current whereabouts of the Carl Vinson aircraft carrier, and various other US naval forces around the globe, here is the latest map courtesy of Stratfor.