In Asia, Trump talks tough on North Korea

The Week (US) - - News 5 -

What hap­pened

Pres­i­dent Trump di­aled up the pres­sure on North Korea dur­ing his first of­fi­cial visit to Asia this week, urg­ing China to cut fi­nan­cial ties with the re­pres­sive regime over its nu­clear weapons pro­gram, and warn­ing dic­ta­tor Kim Jong Un that he was pre­pared to use mil­i­tary force. Ad­dress­ing South Korea’s Na­tional As­sem­bly, Trump de­nounced Kim as a “tyrant” who tor­tures and starves his peo­ple, and cau­tioned Py­ongyang not to threaten the U.S. or its al­lies. “Do not try us,” he said. “We will de­fend our com­mon spirit, our shared pros­per­ity, and our sa­cred lib­erty.” The hard-line speech came a day after the pres­i­dent re­versed his pre­vi­ous in­sis­tence that ne­go­ti­at­ing with Kim Jong Un was a waste of time, say­ing in Seoul that he hoped the North Korean leader would “make a deal” on his nu­clear pro­gram and that he had seen “move­ment” on the is­sue.

Be­fore fly­ing on to Bei­jing, Trump thanked Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping for be­ing “very help­ful” on North Korea, but said he could still do more. The 12-day, five-na­tion trip be­gan in Ja­pan, where Trump be­moaned the U.S.’s “mas­sive” trade deficit with the coun­try but spoke warmly of his close re­la­tion­ship with Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe. After his three-day stay in China, Trump was sched­uled to fly to Viet­nam for a re­gional sum­mit—where he planned to dis­cuss North Korea with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin—and then to the Philip­pines.

What the colum­nists said

Trump’s new­found rhetor­i­cal re­straint sug­gests “China might be close to get­ting North Korea to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble,” said Tom Ro­gan in the Wash­ing­ton Ex­am­iner. The pres­i­dent has stopped needling Kim with petty in­sults—good­bye, “Rocket Man”—per­haps be­cause he knows Xi will soon an­nounce a diplo­matic break­through. If so, Trump de­serves sig­nif­i­cant credit. He’s made it clear that his mil­i­tary threats are se­ri­ous; three U.S. air­craft-car­rier strike forces were on ex­er­cise in the West­ern Pa­cific this week, and he’s pushed Ja­pan and South Korea to boost their mil­i­taries. Bei­jing now un­der­stands that if it doesn’t bring its client state to heel, “its in­ter­ests will suf­fer.” China isn’t com­ing out of this empty-handed, said Jane Per­lez and Mark Lan­dler in The New York Times. It wants to be rec­og­nized as a co­equal su­per­power, one shar­ing the bur­den of global lead­er­ship with Wash­ing­ton. Be­cause Trump is des­per­ate to re­solve the North Korea stand­off, he may be will­ing to form a “spe­cial re­la­tion­ship” with Bei­jing that would do ex­actly that. No other U.S. pres­i­dent has dared link arms with China in this way. But in Trump, who has lav­ished praise on Xi, Bei­jing may have a “will­ing part­ner.”

The pres­i­dent’s “Amer­ica First” for­eign pol­icy ap­par­ently means hu­man rights come last, said Michael Fuchs in ForeignPolicy.com. He seems happy to over­look Xi’s crack­down on free ex­pres­sion in China and the bru­tal an­tidrug war waged by Philip­pines Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte, which has seen up to 13,000 sus­pected users and deal­ers mur­dered by po­lice and vig­i­lantes. By em­brac­ing th­ese “strong­man types,” Trump is un­der­min­ing the no­tion that “the U.S. still stands for open­ness, democ­racy, and good gov­er­nance.”

Pres­i­dents Trump and Xi in Bei­jing

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