President Donald Trump has said the United States was prepared act alone to eliminate the nuclear threat from North Korea if China, its most important patron, was not willing to use its “great influence” to bring it to heel.
Trump planned to bring up the issue at his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Florida resort Mar-a-Lago later this week, he told the Financial Times in an interview.
Trump said: “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.”
Was the US prepared to go “one on one”? “Totally,” he said.
This will be Trump’s most closely watched summit with a foreign leader and will be, as he himself conceded in a tweet last week, likely a “very difficult one” on account of differences between US and China on many issues, chiefly trade.
But in the interview, he struck a positive note. “I have great respect for him (President Xi). I have great respect for China. I would not be at all surprised if we did something that would be very dramatic and good for both countries and I hope so.”
The summit is drawing a lot of attention already, with the president’s son-in-law and closest adviser Jared Kushner seen to be shepherding it on the US side, without any background on the issue other than business dealings with Chinese entities.
With the world watching, including China watchers in India, Trump will be under pressure to be seen talking tough with China — a country with which the US runs a trade deficit of $347 billion and a country that is emerging as a rival global power.
At the same time, the US also expects China to tame North Korea, which has been source of early and constant irritation for the new administration — Pyongyang has conducted at least three missile tests in the last one month alone. One of them, a medium range missile test, was conducted the day Trump was meeting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his Florida resort. Tokyo said that because of the timing the test was “a clear provocation to Japan and the region”.
The Trump administration has already signalled growing impatience with North Korea. Secretary of state Rex Tillersen recently said the US policy of “strategic patience” was over and averred a pre-emptive military action was “an option”.
And defence secretary James Mattis has called the North Korea regime a “threat of both rhetoric and growing capability”, which is “going in a very reckless manner” currently, and which, he stated has “got to be stopped”.
The US last Friday sanctioned 11 North Korean agents — working in Russia, China, Vietnam and Cuba — and a company with links to the country’s “unlawful nuclear, ballistic missile, and proliferation programmes”.
What more can and will the United State do? How far will it go?
Asked if he could consider a “grand bargain” with North Korea that could include withdrawing Americans troops from the Korean peninsula, all Trump would say in his interview was, “Well, if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will...That is all I am telling you.”