President Donald Trump has said the United States is prepared to act alone if China does not take a tougher stand against North Korea’s nuclear program.
Trump’s comments, made in an interview with the Financial Times this weekend, appeared to be designed to pressure Chinese President Xi Jinping ahead of his visit to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida this week.
“China has great influence over North Korea. And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t. And if they do that will be very good for China, and if they don’t it won’t be good for anyone,” Trump was quoted as saying.
Pressed on whether he thought he could succeed alone, he replied: “I don’t have to say any more. Totally.”
There have long been fears North Korea could be developing inter-continental ballistic nuclear missiles capable of reaching the US West Coast.
It is not clear whether Trump’s comments will move China, which has taken steps to increase economic pressure on Pyongyang but has long been unwilling to do anything that may destabilise the North and send millions of refugees across their border, Reuters reported.
Lionel Barber, editor of the Financial Times who was present during the paper’s interview, told Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday: “There was a lot of banter. He said, ‘Great that you’re here, you lost, we won’.
“[He was] very charming, courteous but occasionally intimidating.
“Talk is fairly cheap in this respect, the question is: is there a coherent policy?
“We discovered President Trump has received detailed plans from the military on what to do.
“Military scenarios have been prepared in previous administrations.
“There are a range of scenarios, including military and economic.”
He added: “What they really want is to stop the [North Korea] nuclear programme.”
A State Department spokesman said late on Sunday that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been in touch with a top Chinese official about the upcoming trip, the AP reported.
“We can confirm Secretary Tillerson spoke today by telephone to Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi regarding this week’s visit of President Xi and other issues of bilateral and regional importance,” the spokesman said. He discussed the upcoming visit on condition that his name not be used.
Trade the incentive
In his interview, Trump said trade was the incentive for China to work with the United States. Still, he said the United States could “totally” handle the situation in North Korea without China’s help.
Asked how he would tackle North Korea, Trump said: “I’m not going to tell you. You know, I am not the United States of the past where we tell you where we are going to hit in the Middle East.”
While China provides diplomatic and economic support to its neighbor, it claims that its influence over Kim Jong Un’s government is limited.
The relationship between the United States and China has been uncertain since Trump’s election. During his campaign he accused China of unfair trade practices and threatened to raise import taxes on Chinese goods and declare Beijing a currency manipulator, though it is unclear whether Trump will follow through with either threat.
Trump told the newspaper that he doesn’t “want to talk about tariffs yet, perhaps the next time we meet.”
Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, also offered tough talk on China, saying on ABC’s “This Week” that the US is pressing China to take a firmer stand regarding North Korea’s nuclear program.
UN resolutions have failed so far to deter North Korea from conducting nuclear and missile tests. Last year, the North conducted two nuclear tests and two dozen tests of ballistic missiles.
“They need to put pressure on North Korea”
“They need to show us how concerned they are,” Haley said. “They need to put pressure on North Korea. The only country that can stop North Korea is China, and they know that.”
Asked what the US would do if China doesn’t cooperate, Haley said: “China has to cooperate.”
Former Defence Secretary Ash Carter, however, said he doubted that Beijing will cooperate.
“I’ve been working on the North Korea problem since 1994,” Carter said on ABC. “And we have consistently asked Chinese leaders ... because they uniquely have the historical and the economic relationship with North Korea, to make a difference.
“They haven’t used that influence, and so it’s hard for me to be optimistic with that,” he said.