Want to Wreck the Trump-Xi Bromance? Sell F-35s to Taiwan.
Everything came up roses during the summit meeting between President Trump and Chinese Leader Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago in early April. Previous condemnation of China as “a currency manipulator” and “job stealer” evaporated as the leaders of the world’s two largest economies agreed on a “100-day trade plan” to increase U.S. exports to China and shrink America’s enormous trade deficit. Singapore’s Strait Times quoted President Trump as stating “the relationship developed by President Xi and myself, I think, is outstanding.” Trump had further noted that he informed Xi over dessert at a summit dinner of the U.S. missile strike on a Syrian air base.
However, the president’s granddaughter, Arabella, age five, restored a feeling of conviviality before the summit concluded with a rendition in Mandarin of the Chinese folk song “Mo Li Hua” (Jasmine Flower), which she learned from her Chinese nanny. This personal touch was certain to have pleased Xi and especially his spouse, Madame Peng Liyuan, who reportedly sang the same song herself during her career as a vocal artist.
The two leaders also reportedly discussed the growing crisis over North Korea’s nuclear development. Bill Gertz noted in the Washington Times that “both leaders exchanged views on their assessment of the problem, but ‘there was mutual agreement the problem has become more urgent,’ a senior administration official tells Inside the Ring.” And a follow-up White House statement on April 24 noted that President Trump and his Chinese counterpart vowed to “strengthen coordination” to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, according to USA Today. The statement followed a late April phone call between the two leaders.
North Korea also served to underscore the urgency of the matter by firing yet one more missile just before the Trump/Xi summit. The BBC reported on April 5 that “North Korea has test-fired a medium-range ballistic missile from its eastern port of Sinpo into the Sea of Japan. South Korea’s defense ministry said the missile flew about 60 km (40 miles) . . . The launch comes on the eve of a visit by China’s President Xi Jinping to the US to meet President Donald Trump.”
President Xi reportedly gave President Trump a miniature history lesson on the importance of Sino-Korean relations. President Trump’s takeaway from the discussion, according to an April 12 interview with the Wall Street Journal, was that “Korea actually used to be a part of China,” a statement that caused heartburn in Seoul. This only added to the jitters of a South Korean ally convinced that, with a political transition taking place in South Korea, including a presidential impeachment and a heated election campaign, that there has been a “Korea passing.” The Korea Times editorial went on to note that “concerns over Korea's diplomatic isolation are mounting after U.S. President Donald Trump assumed office in January. Before his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump talked on the phone with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for thirty-five minutes and discussed Pyongyang's ballistic missile test from its eastern port of Sinpo. But there was no phone conversation with acting Korean President Hwang Kyo-ahn . . . Even though there is no president in Korea at the moment after Park Geun-hye was removed from office last month, Trump should have communicated with the acting president over security issues on the Korean Peninsula.”
President Trump created further alliance anxiety in Seoul when he told Reuters that he expected to “either renegotiate or terminate a ‘horrible’ trade deal with South Korea (KORUS FTA)” and that he “wants South Korea to pay for the $1 billion THAAD missile defense system,” the deployment of which has already led to Chinese economic retaliation against South Korean companies. South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported on March 24 that House Asia and the Pacific Subcommittee Chairman Ted Yoho had introduced a bipartisan-sponsored resolution (H. Res. 223) “condemning China’s retaliation against South Korea for its decision to host the U.S. THAAD missile defense system and urging Beijing to exercise pressure on North Korea. . . . China’s retaliatory measures against South Korea potentially constitute a violation of its World Trade Organization obligations.”
While China has now become the center of the Trump administration’s diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula, Beijing’s ultimate resolve in seeking to rein in the petulant Kim Jong-un and his nuclear adventurism remains open to question. The website NK News carried a post Xi-Trump summit report of “four N. Korean ships, three with troubled pasts, allowed into Chinese coal port” despite Beijing’s earlier pledge to cut off coal imports from Pyongyang for the rest of 2017. Coal remains North Korea’s main legitimate export. President Trump himself has taken note of the pledged coal import ban, calling Beijing’s action “a big step” towards cracking down on the rogue state, according to CNN.
CNN further reported that a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, with Beijing caught with its proverbial hand in the cookie jar on the coal issue, issued the following statement on April 23: “There have been some reports that some coal ships have tied up in port. You are aware if these ships continue to remain out at sea, away from port, we need to make some humanitarian consideration for their crews.” The spokesperson added that “nothing that violates the implementation” of sanctions had occurred.