US re­news pres­sure on China amid threat from North Korea

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Less than three months af­ter Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and China’s leader strolled the man­i­cured lawns at Mar-a-Lago, the White House is sud­denly en­gaged in a mul­ti­pronged pres­sure cam­paign against Bei­jing, born of frus­tra­tion with the lim­ited re­sults of their much-touted co­op­er­a­tion on end­ing North Korea’s nu­clear threat. De­liv­er­ing a one-two punch to China on Thurs­day, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­proved a $1.4 bil­lion arms sale to Tai­wan and black­listed a small Chi­nese bank over its busi­ness ties with North Korea.

The State Depart­ment ear­lier in the week gave Bei­jing a dis­mal grade in a new hu­man traf­fick­ing re­port that was en­dorsed by Ivanka Trump, the pres­i­dent’s daugh­ter and se­nior ad­viser. The ac­tions cul­mi­nated days of in­creased ir­ri­ta­tion among the pres­i­dent and his top aides over China’s re­luc­tance to tighten the eco­nomic screws on Py­ongyang. Un­til re­cently, Amer­i­can of­fi­cials had been hailing the im­proved co­or­di­na­tion with China and de­scrib­ing it as the cen­ter­piece of their strat­egy for pre­vent­ing North Korea’s iso­lated to­tal­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ment from be­ing able to strike the US home­land with nu­clear weapons.

Trump hinted at his loss of pa­tience last week, tweet­ing that his bid to se­cure a tougher Chi­nese ap­proach “has not worked out.” China rep­re­sents about 90 per­cent of North Korea’s trade. Af­ter a meet­ing Fri­day with South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in that fo­cused heav­ily on North Korea, Trump made no ref­er­ence to Bei­jing. The shifts in Trump’s China pol­icy in some way re­flect the nat­u­ral ebbs and flows that are to be ex­pected in great power re­la­tions. The US and China have the world’s two big­gest economies, with all the com­mer­cial op­por­tu­ni­ties and headaches such a dy­namic en­tails.

While Amer­ica’s mil­i­tary is by far the strong­est, the gap with China is rapidly nar­row­ing. On se­cu­rity, diplo­macy, for­eign in­vest­ment and other mat­ters, it’s only nat­u­ral that US and Chi­nese in­ter­ests will col­lide. But Trump’s rapid flip-flops on China are a de­par­ture from the prac­tice of past US pres­i­dents, who found per­sis­tent be­hind-the-scenes pres­sure and en­gage­ment of Bei­jing more likely than head­line-grab­bing con­fronta­tions to pro­duce deals on ev­ery­thing from car­bon emis­sions to cur­rency ex­change rates.

Trump was blis­ter­ingly crit­i­cal of China as a can­di­date, say­ing he would not al­low the Chi­nese “to rape our coun­try.” He also fielded a call from Tai­wan’s pres­i­dent weeks af­ter his elec­tion vic­tory. Trump’s tone dras­ti­cally shifted in the run-up to the sum­mit with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping in Florida. He toned down threats to up­end the US. “One China” pol­icy, which ac­knowl­edges Bei­jing’s claim to Tai­wan. And he said China doesn’t ma­nip­u­late its cur­rency.

Amid the un­pre­dictabil­ity, China’s gov­ern­ment has re­lied heav­ily on a close re­la­tion­ship that has de­vel­oped be­tween its US am­bas­sador, Cui Tiankai, and Jared Kush­ner, Trump’s son-in-law and se­nior ad­viser. Kush­ner, who is heav­ily in­volved in for­eign pol­icy, speaks fre­quently with the am­bas­sador. “I think that chan­nel has not pro­vided them with the cor­rect un­der­stand­ing with what they need to do on a range of is­sues,” said Bonnie Glaser, a se­nior ad­viser for Asia at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies.

“On North Korea, they just didn’t hit the mark.” The White House in­sisted that its ac­tions this week were not aimed at pun­ish­ing China for its re­luc­tance to ramp up pres­sure on North Korea. The State Depart­ment said the arms sale to Tai­wan was ap­proved un­der a long-stand­ing US pol­icy to help the self-gov­ern­ing is­land’s self-de­fense. Treasury Sec­re­tary Steve Mnuchin, who an­nounced the sanc­tions on the Chi­nese bank, said that “we are in no way tar­get­ing China.” —AP

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