By Christine Kim
SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea approved a plan on Thursday to send $8 million worth of aid to North Korea, as China warned the crisis on the Korean peninsula was getting more serious by the day and the war of words between Pyongyang and Washington continued.
North Korea's foreign minister on Thursday likened U.S. President Donald Trump to a "barking dog", after Trump warned he would "totally destroy" the North if it threatened the United States and its allies.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the situation on the Korean peninsula was getting more serious by the day and cannot be allowed to spin out of control.
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"We call on all parties to be calmer than calm and not let the situation escalate out of control," Wang said, according to a report from the state-run China News Service on Thursday.
The decision to send aid to North Korea was not popular in South Korea, hitting President Moon Jae-in's approval rating, raised concerns in Japan and the United States, and follows new U.N. sanctions against North Korea for its sixth nuclear test earlier this month.
The South's Unification Ministry said its aid policy remains unaffected by geopolitical tensions with the North. The exact timing of when the aid will be sent, as well as its size, will be confirmed later, the ministry said in a statement.
The South said it aims to send $4.5 million worth of nutritional products for children and pregnant women through the World Food Programme and $3.5 million worth of vaccines and medicinal treatments through UNICEF.
"We have consistently said we would pursue humanitarian aid for North Korea in consideration of the poor conditions children and pregnant women are in there, apart from political issues," said Unification Minister Cho Myong-gyon.
Ahead of the decision, UNICEF's regional director for East Asia and the Pacific Karin Hulshof said in a statement the problems North Korean children face "are all too real".
"Today, we estimate that around 200,000 children are affected by acute malnutrition, heightening their risk of death and increasing rates of stunting," Hulshof said.
"Food and essential medicines and equipment to treat young children are in short supply."
The last time the South had sent aid to the North was in December 2015 through the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) under ex-president Park Geun-hye.
South Korea's efforts aimed at fresh aid for North Korea has dragged down Moon's approval rating. Realmeter, a South Korean polling organization, said on Thursday Moon's approval rating stood at 65.7 percent, weakening for a fourth straight month.
Although the approval rate is still high, those surveyed said Moon had fallen out of favor due to North Korea's continued provocations and the government's decision to consider sending aid to North Korea, Realmeter said.
Moon will meet with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Trump later on Thursday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, where North Korea is expected to be the core agenda.
In an address on Tuesday, Trump escalated his standoff with North Korea over its nuclear challenge, threatening to "totally destroy" the country of 26 million people if the North threatened the United States and its allies.
Trump also mocked its leader, Kim Jong Un, calling him a "rocket man".
North Korea's Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho called Trump's comments "the sound of a dog barking".
"There is a saying that goes: 'Even when dogs bark, the parade goes on'," said Ri in televised remarks to reporters in front of a hotel near the U.N. headquarters in New York.
"If (Trump) was thinking about surprising us with dog-barking sounds then he is clearly dreaming."
When asked by reporters what he thought of Trump calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "rocket man", Ri quipped, "I feel sorry for his aides."
North Korea conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test early this month while it has launched numerous missiles this year, including two intercontinental ballistic missiles and two other rockets that have flown over Japan.
Such provocations have sparked strong disapproval from the international community, especially from the United States and Japan.
(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina in BEIJING; Editing by Michael Perry)