Donald Trump has accused China of scuppering peace talks with North Korea in retaliation for its ongoing trade dispute with the US, threatening to revisit war games with South Korea if sufficient progress cannot be made.
In a series of tweets on Wednesday night, Mr Trump primarily took aim at Beijing, accusing China’s Xi Jinping of putting North Korea’s Kim Jong-un “under tremendous pressure” not to work with the US.
“At the same time, we also know that China is providing North Korea with considerable aid, including money, fuel, fertilizer and various other commodities,” Mr Trump said, adding: “This is not helpful!”
The tweets also included a thinly veiled threat towards North Korea, warning military exercises with South Korea and Japan could be resumed “instantly” if Mr Trump gave the order. The US agreed to halt the war games after Mr Trump’s summit with Mr Kim in Singapore, in a major concession to North Korea’s demands.
Military leaders were caught by surprise when he ordered that suspension, describing the exercises as “provocative” and expensive.
Mr Trump still thinks “there is no reason at this time to be spending large amounts of money on joint US-South Korea war games”, he tweeted. “Besides, the president can instantly start the joint exercises again with South Korea, and Japan, if he so chooses. If he does, they will be far bigger than ever before.”
Above all else, the tweets serve to highlight Mr Trump’s idiosyncratic method of conducting diplomacy – threatening a huge show of force and dealing out accusations, while also insisting on the warmth of his relationships with both Mr Kim and Mr Xi.
On the North Korean side, “the president believes that his relationship with Kim Jong-un is a very good and warm one”, the tweets read. On China, Mr Trump said the trade dispute represented “differences [that] will be resolved in time by President Trump and China’s great President Xi Jinping. Their relationship and bond remain very strong.”
Back in June there were hopes that the gesture of shelving the US-South Korea exercises would foster goodwill and help nudge the North towards denuclearisation talks. But beyond returning the potential remains of about 55 American soldiers missing from the Korean War, and its continuing suspension in its own missile and nuclear tests, there has been little movement from Pyongyang.
As a result, the US abandoned a planned trip to North Korea by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week, citing the lack of progress.
And as concerns have grown that North Korea is in fact expanding some of its nuclear facilities, Mr Trump’s attacks on Beijing have become more pointed.
China cooperated with the US last year in adopting tough international sanctions against North Korea and maintains it is still enforcing the restrictions adopted by the UN Security Council.
Mr Trump’s tweets also come in the wake of comments from other US officials, including the defence secretary Jim Mattis, suggesting plans are being put in place for exercises with South Korea next spring. One official told the Reuters news agency preliminary work has begun, noting it is much easier to cancel an exercise than it is to put one together quickly.
By Adam Withnall