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China retorts tartly to Trump’s accusation

Beijing says it’s a ‘trustworthy and responsible’ nation

July 12,2018
The Chinese Foreign Ministry shot back at U.S. President Donald Trump’s accusation that Beijing may be exerting negative pressure on Pyongyang because of the growing trade war started by Washington.

“I have three points to make,” said Hua Chunying, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, responding tersely to Trump’s remark on trade issues in a briefing Tuesday. “First, China’s position on the Korean Peninsula issue is consistent. Second, China’s attitude on the China-U.S. trade issues is clear. Third, China is a trustworthy and responsible major country.”

But the escalating trade war between the United States and China may indeed become a key variable in the denuclearization negotiations with North Korea.

The Trump administration further ratcheted up its trade dispute with China on Tuesday, threatening to impose tariffs on an additional $200 billion worth of Chinese imports if Beijing doesn’t change its trade practices. Last Friday, Trump imposed 25 percent tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods, which China reciprocated with an equal levy on the same amount of American goods.

Trump tweeted on Monday that China “may be exerting negative pressure on a deal” on denuclearization with North Korea because of the U.S. position on Chinese trade. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a two-day trip to Pyongyang last week to follow up on denuclearization negotiations after a June 12 summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Trump, but seems to have hit a diplomatic impasse.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in a statement Tuesday that the president’s order to impose tariffs of 10 percent on an additional $200 billion of Chinese imports was “a result of China’s retaliation and failure to change its practices.”

But he added, “As in the past, the United States is willing to engage in efforts that could lead to a resolution of our concerns about China’s unfair trade practices and to China opening its market to U.S. goods and services.”

China’s Commerce Ministry on Wednesday called Washington’s action “completely unacceptable” in a statement and said it will “retaliate” against such a move, without further elaborating. It also vowed to lodge complaints with the World Trade Organization.

Since his campaigning days, Trump has called for a reduction of China’s trade surplus with the United States, for Beijing to open up its markets to American companies and stop stealing intellectual property. He has also linked security issues with trade and signaled that he might go easy on Beijing over trade issues if it helped with North Korea.

Some analysts point out that because Trump believes that negotiations with North Korea are now underway, he no longer has to hold back on trade issues.

Trump has said he may ultimately impose tariffs on some $500 billion worth of Chinese products.

As North Korea’s main trading partner, China’s enforcement of sanctions in the United States’ maximum pressure campaign on the North was crucial in bringing Pyongyang to the negotiating table. Regardless of the ongoing talks with the North following the June 12 summit, the Trump administration said it will continue to enforce economic sanctions on Pyongyang until its complete denuclearization. Continued cooperation from China would be crucial to maintain the pressure. Thus, analysts have warned of risks of either side using North Korea as leverage in their trade war or losing focus on the denuclearization issue.

In recent months, a diplomatic freeze between Beijing and Pyongyang thawed considerably following three summits between leader Kim and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Kim has been spotting inspecting border cities frequently in the past weeks, apparently eyeing strengthening economic cooperation with China.

Wang Chen, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and vice chairperson of Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, on Tuesday called for promoting healthy and stable bilateral ties.

According to Xinhua News Agency, Chen made the remarks at a banquet celebrating the 57th anniversary of the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance between North Korea and China, also attended by Ji Jae-ryong, the North Korean ambassador to China.

“In President Trump’s perspective on the North Korea issue, a summit has been held and negotiations have proceeded to a certain extent, so compared to last year there is an atmosphere of resolving the problem,” Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at the Korea Diplomatic National Academy, told the JoongAng Ilbo Wednesday. “Currently, he has set as a key priority winning against China in the trade war, and may use the North Korea issue to get at China.”

Despite speculations that the United States may be at a stumbling block in talks with the North, Trump remained good humored on negotiations with Pyongyang, saying that he hasn’t yet given Kim Jong-un an Elton John album with the song “Rocket Man,” which the president autographed, but still plans to. This tongue-in-cheek CD gift is a reference to Trump’s favorite moniker for Kim, “Little Rocket Man,” during a period of hostility and exchanges of bellicose rhetoric. Pompeo was expected to present the CD to Kim during his Pyongyang visit but wasn’t given an audience with the North Korean leader.

“They didn’t give it, I have it for him,” the president told reporters on Tuesday on his way to Brussels for a NATO summit. “But it will be given at a certain period.”

He also hinted at a second secret gift for Kim.

“I actually do have a little gift for him but you’ll find out what that gift is when I give it,” Trump added.

After the NATO summit, Trump will fly to Helsinki to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, another player in the North Korean denuclearization issue. Russia has often teamed with China in pushing for a stage-by-stage denuclearization approach to North Korea, calling for a freeze of large-scale South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises for a freeze in the North’s nuclear and missile testing, and in parallel pursuing a peace and security mechanism and normalization of relations with North Korea.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]


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