U.S. President Donald Trump suggested China is obstructing nuclear talks with North Korea as the world’s two biggest economies tussle over trade. Trump’s remark at a political rally Wednesday in Tampa, Florida, was the latest sign of friction between the U.S. and North Korea, as they attempt to implement on Kim’s June 12 agreement to “work toward complete denuclearization.” The president made the claim during a long defense of his trade war with China.
“We are doing well in North Korea, although I happen to think that we’re doing so well with China that China maybe is getting in our way,” Trump said, noting that Kim has continued to refrain from launching missiles. “No tests. No rockets flying. We’ll see what happens.” Trump didn’t provide details on how China was interfering in the nuclear talks.
It wasn’t the first time Trump has suggested that China was relaxing pressure on North Korea amid the simmering trade dispute. After his summit with Kim in Singapore, Trump acknowledged that his trade disputes could discourage Chinese President Xi Jinping’s cooperation, saying “the border is more open than it was when we first started.”
Besides being the U.S.’s largest trading partner, China is arguably the most important player in Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign to force Kim to give up his nuclear arsenal. After an April 2017 meeting at the president’s Mar-a-Lago home, Xi supported successive rounds of United Nations sanctions and clamped down on border trade with North Korea.
China has so far avoided publicly conflating the disputes over trade and North Korea. The government has said only that the UN Security Council — where China and the U.S. both wield vetoes — should revisit sanctions after Kim’s meeting with Trump.
Since the Singapore summit, independent researchers and U.S. intelligence reports published by news organization have suggested that North Korea is still expanding its weapons program. The regime has continued to assemble intercontinental ballistic missiles at a plant near Pyongyang, the Washington Post reported Monday, citing people familiar with U.S. intelligence. Trump told the rally that had a good relationship with Kim. “There’s nothing like talking,” he said.