Bei­jing walks a tightrope with Trump over N Korea

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

The US and Chi­nese pres­i­dents face an awk­ward en­counter at the G20 sum­mit this week as ris­ing ten­sions over how to deal with North Korea threaten to shat­ter the al­ready-crum­bling fa­cade of their friendly rhetoric. North Korea’s land­mark test of an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic missile (ICBM) ca­pa­ble of reach­ing Alaska has in­ten­si­fied fric­tion be­tween the su­per­pow­ers ahead of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s meet­ing with his Chi­nese coun­ter­part Xi Jin­ping at the sum­mit in Ger­many, which starts to­mor­row.

In the weeks lead­ing up to Tues­day’s missile test, Trump had used a se­ries of Twit­ter out­bursts to crit­i­cize China over its fail­ure to rein in the nu­clear-armed North, vex­ing Chi­nese lead­ers who pre­fer closed-door diplo­macy to public tongue-lash­ings. In a marked change of tune, Trump has gone from call­ing Xi a “good man” af­ter their first face-to-face meet­ing at the US bil­lion­aire’s Florida re­sort in April to ac­cus­ing him last month of fail­ing to re­solve the North Korea is­sue. In his lat­est salvo on Mon­day, Trump called on China to “put a heavy move on North Korea and end this non­sense once and for all!”

China’s for­eign min­istry re­sponded that Bei­jing had made “re­lent­less ef­forts” to re­solve the is­sue. For his part, Xi com­plained in a call with Trump on Mon­day about a “neg­a­tive” patch in re­la­tions af­ter the US ad­min­is­tra­tion slapped sanc­tions on a Chi­nese bank linked to North Korea and au­tho­rized a $1.3 bil­lion arms sales to Tai­wan. While China, the North’s sole ma­jor ally and eco­nomic life­line, could do much more to starve Py­ongyang of the for­eign cur­rency it needs to fund its weapons pro­grams, an­a­lysts say the US ac­tions make that less likely to hap­pen.

‘Del­i­cate bal­ance’

China is also care­fully cal­i­brat­ing its moves to avoid desta­bi­liz­ing its un­pre­dictable neigh­bor for fear of trig­ger­ing the regime’s col­lapse and a flood of refugees across its bor­der-or giv­ing the US a rea­son to launch a strike in its back­yard. “They are try­ing to find the point to keep the Amer­i­cans happy and keep Trump from veer­ing off and look­ing at mil­i­tary op­tions,” said An­drew Gil­holm, di­rec­tor of anal­y­sis of Greater China and North Asia at Con­trol Risks.

Gil­holm added, how­ever, that China’s eco­nomic lever­age over the North did not nec­es­sar­ily mean it could per­suade Py­ongyang to give up its nu­clear am­bi­tions. But the North’s pos­ses­sion of a work­ing ICBM could sig­nal time is run­ning out for China to act. Trump, who has made halt­ing the nu­clear threat his top for­eign pol­icy pri­or­ity, has vowed to act uni­lat­er­ally against Py­ongyang if Bei­jing fails to rein in North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s regime.

“It’s a del­i­cate bal­ance,” said Willy Lam, a pol­i­tics ex­pert at the Chi­nese Uni­ver­sity of Hong Kong. “If they (China) don’t take ac­tion fast enough it’s pos­si­ble that the US might con­tem­plate some ac­tion, ei­ther a sur­gi­cal strike or other ac­tion.” China ap­peared to cave to US pres­sure in Fe­bru­ary when it an­nounced the sus­pen­sion of coal im­ports from North Korea for the rest of the year. The to­tal value of all im­ports from North Korea fell to $721.5 mil­lion be­tween Jan­uary and May from $773.6 mil­lion over the same pe­riod last year, ac­cord­ing to Chi­nese of­fi­cial fig­ures. —AFP

DAN­DONG: Chi­nese woman clean their clothes near the Friend­ship bridge (back top) on the Yalu River con­nect­ing the North Korean town of Sinuiju and Dan­dong in Chi­nese bor­der city of Dan­dong yes­ter­day. —AFP

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