President Donald Trump accused China of undermining US efforts to pressure North Korea into giving up its nuclear weapons, indicating his trade war with Beijing is starting to exacerbate geopolitical tensions.
“North Korea is under tremendous pressure from China because of our major trade disputes with the Chinese Government,” Trump said in a series of tweets Wednesday, which he called a White House statement. “At the same time, we also know that China is providing North Korea with considerable aid, including money, fuel, fertilizer and various other commodities. This is not helpful!”
China fired back on Thursday, saying it’s policies on North Korea “are clear, consistent and stable.” Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China hopes the US will play a positive role in bringing peace on the Korean Peninsula.
“In the face of difficulties, the US should look to itself for reasons and reflection,” Hua said. “As to the US’s buck-passing behavior, sorry China won’t take the blame.”
Trump’s remarks deepen concerns that the trade spat will morph into a protracted conflict that looks similar to last century’s rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union. Suspicions have risen in Beijing that Trump’s tariffs are part of a wider strategy to thwart China’s rise as a global power.
The trade war between the US and China is primed to escalate further after their governments failed to make progress last week. The US has slapped tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports so far, with another $200 billion in the pipeline that could take effect as early as next month. China has retaliated with equal tariffs and pledged further measures.
“As for the US-China trade disputes, and other differences, they will be resolved in time by President Trump and China’s great President Xi Jinping,” Trump said on Wednesday. “Their relationship and bond remain very strong.”
The US has leaned heavily on China, which shares a border with North Korea and is its largest trading partner, to help enforce tougher sanctions imposed last year against Kim Jong Un’s regime. China “is the route to North Korea,” Trump said Wednesday.
Trump last week called off a trip to North Korea by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, saying there hadn’t been enough progress in talks aimed at denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and that he would likely return after US trade disputes with China were resolved.
In hitting out at China, Trump offered an olive branch to North Korea even as he acknowledged the talks are stalled just months after his historic summit with Kim. He said his relationship with Kim remained “very good and warm,” and that he saw no need to resume military drills with South Korea and Japan “at this time.”
In the months since Trump and Kim met in Singapore, the US has struggled to show signs of progress in its bid to get North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. Pompeo conceded before the Senate recently that the Kim government continues producing fissile material and has provided no inventory of its nuclear program and facilities.
In a diplomatic gesture to Pyongyang in June, Trump suspended what he called “war games” with South Korea, saying he believed Kim “wants to get it done” on denuclearization. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Tuesday said the US doesn’t plan to suspend more joint military drills amid reports that North Korea was rejecting American demands to give up nuclear warheads.
In his statement Wednesday saying that military drills would remain suspended, Trump added: “The President can instantly start the joint exercises again with South Korea, and Japan, if he so chooses. If he does, they will be far bigger than ever before.”
At a briefing in Seoul on Thursday, South Korean defense ministry spokesman Choi Hyun-soo said a decision “has not been made yet” on whether to go forward with annual US-South Korea Air Force drills scheduled for December. He didn’t elaborate.
The US has conducted military exercises on the Korean Peninsula since the mid-1950s and holds a handful of joint operations with South Korea every year, which the Pentagon calls a means of ensuring the two forces are able to work together in the event of an attack. The annual drills, separate from regular training programs, have long angered North Korea’s leaders.