Donald Trump has issued China with an ultimatum that if it fails to put pressure on North Korea to disable its nuclear programme, then the US is prepared to take action against Pyongyang on its own.
“Well, if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will,” the president said in an interview with the Financial Times published on Sunday.
Asked how he would tackle North Korea, Trump said: “I’m not going to tell you. You know, I am not the United States of the past where we tell you where we are going to hit in the Middle East.”
Trump will host the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, this Thursday and Friday at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where the two leaders are expected to discuss North Korea, China’s ambitions in the South China Sea and trade.
Trump said he had “great respect” for Xi and “great respect for China”, adding: “I would not be at all surprised if we did something that would be very dramatic and good for both countries and I hope so.”
About North Korea, he said: “China has great influence over North Korea. And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t. And if they do that will be very good for China, and if they don’t it won’t be good for anyone.”
Asked what might motivate China to help, Trump said: “I think trade is the incentive. It is all about trade.”
In the same interview, Trump also praised the European Union’s response to Brexit, claiming the UK’s withdrawal from the bloc could be a “very good thing” for both parties.
Compared with previous comments in which he boasted about “predicting Brexit”, he struck a more conciliatory tone about the future of the EU, claiming the 27 other members were “getting their act together” and that it had become less likely that other countries would follow the UK’s example.
In a separate conversation, Trump’s deputy national security adviser, KT McFarland, told the FT there was a “real possibility” North Korea could be capable of hitting the US with a nuclear-armed missile by the end of Trump’s first term. Intelligence experts disagree with McFarland’s assessment.
Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, also offered tough talk on China on Sunday, saying on ABC’s This Week that the US was pressing China to take a firmer stand regarding North Korea’s nuclear program.
UN resolutions have failed so far to deter North Korea from conducting nuclear and missile tests. Last year, the North conducted two nuclear tests and two dozen tests of ballistic missiles.
“They need to show us how concerned they are,” Haley said. “They need to put pressure on North Korea. The only country that can stop North Korea is China, and they know that.”
While China provides diplomatic and economic support to its neighbor, it claims that its influence over Kim Jong-un’s government is limited. Asked what the US would do if China did not cooperate, Haley said: “China has to cooperate.”
Speaking on the same show, Barack Obama’s last defense secretary, Ash Carter, said he doubted that Beijing would do so.
“They haven’t used that influence, and so it’s hard for me to be optimistic with that.”
On trade, China on Saturday called on the US to respect international rules and improve cooperation and dialogue. The call came in reaction to two new executive orders by Trump calling for an investigation into trade abuses.
Any US trade enforcement measures should comply with generally accepted international trade rules and differences between the two countries should be handled properly, an unidentified spokesperson for China’s ministry of commerce said in a speech on Saturday.
“China is willing to cooperate with the United States on a basis of equality and mutual benefit,” the spokesperson said in the speech, which was released on the ministry’s website.