100 day deadline set by Trump and Xi slips away

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100 day deadline set by Trump and Xi slips away

The deadline for the 100 day plan set forth by U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping after their April summit has passed, marking a possible turning point in North Korea and trade issues between the two countries.

More details on the follow-up to the plan are expected to be announced in the coming week as senior U.S. and Chinese officials hold bilateral economic talks in Washington, where the two sides could clash over trade imbalances and China’s steel dumping, among other issues.

The Comprehensive Economic Dialogue, led by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang will begin on Wednesday in Washington, replacing the Strategic and Economic Dialogue of the Barack Obama administration, which has been criticized for involving too many people while seeing too few results.

Sunday marked the 100th day since Trump and Xi held their summit at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida over April 6 and 7.

Their first meeting was watched carefully because during his campaign, Trump had vowed to come down hard on Beijing over trade deficits and other issues. But the two leaders hit it off, agreeing to cooperate on North Korea and establishing a 100 day action plan to address trade imbalance, boost U.S. exports and reduce China’s trade surplus with the United States.

He also backed down from labeling China as a currency manipulator. In a Tweet later that month, he wrote, “Why would I call China a currency manipulator when they are working with us on the North Korean problem? We will see what happens!”

Trump has, however, recently criticized Beijing for not doing enough to rein in North Korea, especially following the death of American student Otto Warmbier after his release from detainment by Pyongyang last month, and the regime’s first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test on July 4.

The Trump administration has also been pressuring China with the possibility of secondary sanctions that will target companies or individuals with links to North Korea’s illegal activities by cutting them off from the U.S. market and financial systems.

On Thursday, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators, including Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida and Cory Gardner of Colorado, and Democrats Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Bob Menendez of New Jersey, introduced the North Korean Enablers Accountability Act, which will ban entities that conduct business with North Korea or its enablers from using the U.S. financial system, and impose U.S. sanctions on all those participating in North Korean labor trafficking abuses. This includes the top 10 Chinese importers of goods from North Korea.

Reuters reported Friday that the Trump administration is considering imposing new sanctions within weeks on small Chinese banks and shell companies that are doing illegal business with North Korea, citing two senior U.S. officials. Such measures would initially hit “low-hanging fruit,” it added, leaving larger Chinese banks untouched for now.

The United States is reportedly investigating a Chinese company allegedly involved in illicit trade with North Korea.

Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun reported on Saturday that the Trump administration launched an investigation into a trading company based in Dandong, northeastern China, near the border with North Korea, involved in illicit business with the regime.

Earlier this month, it was revealed that the U.S. Justice Department sought seizure warrants against eight banks to investigate accounts held by a Chinese trading company in the United States. The banks are said to have been involved in over $700 million of prohibited transactions with entities tied to North Korea since 2009, including Chinese company Dandong Zhicheng Metallic Material and its affiliated front companies. A recent report by the Washington-based research group C4ADS showed that Dandong Zhicheng accounted for 9.2 percent of North Korea’s exports to China last year, 97 percent of which was coal.

On July 8, following Trump’s meeting with Xi on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, the White House said in a statement that Trump had discussed the need to “respond to North Korea’s major escalation involving the test of an ICBM,” adding that the G-20 “leaders also reviewed work in other areas in the bilateral relationship, including economic issues such as reciprocal trade and market access,” and that they hope to make security and economic progress in upcoming dialogues.

Washington blacklisted a Chinese shipping company and two individuals for illegal dealings with the North at the end of last month. The U.S. Treasury Department also noted China’s Bank of Dandong for laundering money for Pyongyang and acting as “a conduit for illicit North Korean financial activity.”

The move was seen as a sign to China that the United States will implement secondary sanctions on Chinese entities.

Trump has also conveyed to Xi that Washington will impose sanctions on Chinese companies with links to North Korea’s nuclear and missile development should Beijing fails to take action, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a hearing at the House Foreign Affairs Committee in mid-June.

But China has bristled against pressure from Washington to do more about the North. “The countries, through the upcoming meeting, will come up with some sort of agreement,” one diplomatic source in Washington said, “but it is currently difficult to predict if the tension between the U.S. and China will be alleviated following North Korea’s ICBM test.”

BY CHAE BYUNG-GUN, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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