President Donald Trump said on Thursday that Chinese President Xi Jinping “could be influencing” North Korean leader Kim Jong-un after his regime abruptly shifted to a sharp, negative tone this week about the prospects of a planned summit with the US in June.
“If you remember two weeks ago, all of a sudden out of nowhere Kim Jong-un went to China to say hello again — second time — to President Xi,” Trump told reporters during an Oval Office meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, referring to a May 8 meeting between the leaders.
“It could very well be that he’s influencing Kim Jong-un. We’ll see what happens. Meaning the President of China, President Xi, could be influencing,” Trump said.
North Korea suspended talks with Seoul earlier this week, citing long-planned US-South Korea military exercises. That decision came with a warning to the US to “think twice” about the fate of the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore on June 12.
North Korea warned on Thursday of a “rupture” in ties with South Korea, calling the country’s officials “ignorant and incompetent.”
Kim visited Xi in the Chinese port city of Dalian on May 8 after a surprise two-day visit to Beijing in late March. The quick succession of meetings indicated that ties are improving rapidly as North Korea seeks talks over its nuclear program. The neighbours, which fought together during the Korean War, had grown apart last year after China backed United Nations sanctions crimping North Korea’s energy imports and sources of foreign cash to pressure it to halt its nuclear and missile tests.
Now China and North Korea’s interests are becoming more aligned. North Korea relies on China to support its economy, while Xi could use closer ties with Kim as leverage in his talks with Trump over the trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies.
China’s Vice Premier Liu He is in Washington this week for high-level talks to head off a potential trade war. He is scheduled to meet with Trump today.
“You have to have two parties that wanted to do it. He absolutely wanted to do it,” Trump said, referring to Kim and the June summit. “Perhaps he doesn’t want to do it. Perhaps they spoke with China, that could be right. President Xi — friend of mine, great guy — but he’s for China and I’m for the United States.”