China has realised that nuclear- armed North Korea is becoming a greater threat to its security and is working to address the challenge posed by Pyongyang, a top US official has said. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton said that as many as 90 per cent of North Korea’s economy is still flowing through China, so Beijing has more leverage on North Korea than any other country. “We’re working with them currently to continue to step up enforcement of sanctions and to try to levy additional sanctions, so I think we have to keep working on that track,” Thornton said. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson heads to the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia later this week as part of the Trump administration’s policy to strengthen relationship with countries in the Asia pacific region, many of whom are concerned about the increasing Chinese assertiveness. The US, she said has been working with China on North Korea. “What we think we’ve seen today in the way of cooperation, which we have seen significant steps taken by China to increase pressure on North Korea — frankly, unprecedented steps,” Thornton said. “We do have indications that China is extremely concerned about North Korea and extremely unhappy with the direction things are going. They realise that this is becoming a greater threat to China’s own security, and we see a growing determination on their part to take steps to try to address the situation seriously,” Thornton said.
Such a statement from a state department official gains significance given news reports that the White House is planning to impose some kind of sanctions on China because it is not taking any steps against its close ally North Korea. “We and China have the same goal, which is denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, and so we share a mutual interest there and we want to find out how we can work more effectively together to bring about that change in North Korea that we would like to see,” she said.
“On the issues of trade, it has also been a prominent topic of discussion. We’ve had the US-China Comprehensive Economic Dialogue here in Washington DC recently that discussed the full gamut of trade and investment and economic issues, and that discussion is continuing and we’ve got a number of hundred-day plans in the works to negotiate resolution and show concrete progress in that relationship,” the official said.
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The US and China can have a productive relationship if the two countries can work together on the issue of North Korea. Thornton said the Trump administration would continue to be engaged in the Asia Pacific region. “On the issue of the rebalance, I think that slogans are sometimes overrated or overused, but certainly, what the rebalance was trying to denote was that the US is an Asia Pacific power, we’re going to be engaged in the Asia Pacific region, we’re a provider of security in the region, it’s key to our prosperity and our economic future, and we are going to pay a lot of attention to Asia…,” she said.
“So I think you’ve seen the engagement by so many high- level officials, with leaders coming here, with our high-level cabinet officials going there, with the president’s trip upcoming later this fall, so I think it’s really just a matter of naming it. I think I would say our active engagement is frankly continuing and is not going to be changing anytime soon,” Thornton said.
The US has sent aircraft carrier-led strike group to the Korean peninsula to step up pressure against North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un to refrain from developing a nuclear- tipped ballistic missile capable of reaching mainland US.