North Korea

Trump says he understands China doesn’t want ‘50 million North Korean refugees’

US president tells reporters Xi Jinping is ‘a tremendous guy’ who wants to do what’s best for China, but trade is still his main bargaining chip to get Beijing to help rein in Pyongyang

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 July, 2017, 12:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 July, 2017, 2:36am

US President Donald Trump says he understands President Xi Jinping’s concerns about ­refugees flooding over the border if North Korea ­collapses, but trade is still his main bargaining chip to get Beijing to take action on Pyongyang’s ­nuclear weapons programme.

Xi was “a tremendous guy” with whom he had “a very good relationship”, Trump told reporters on Air Force One on Wednesday as he flew to Paris to take part in Bastille Day celebrations, according to an article in The New York Times.

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“So he could be a tremendous guy, but he’s going to do what is good for China, and he doesn’t want 50 million people pouring across his border,” Trump was quoted as saying.

The two leaders met in person for the second time on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg last Saturday.

Although there was a lack of transparent figures from North Korea, experts often put the population of the reclusive authoritarian nation at 24 million, said Lu Chao, director of the ­Border Study Institute at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, located in the bordering province.

The United Nations put the population of the country at 25.2 million in 2016.

“It’s unlikely that everyone in North Korea would become refugees,” Lu said. “We usually put the number of refugees at around one million.”

Trump has previously threatened in a tweet to take more economic action to pressure Beijing to help rein in aggression from Pyongyang. On Wednesday, he said trade deals with China, “the worst of all trade deals”, were Washington’s “biggest strength” in pressing China, North Korea’s largest trading partner, to act. “But before I did that, I wanted to give it a good shot. Let’s see. And they helped us,” Trump said. “But don’t forget. He’s for China. So that’s always going to be.”

Claiming Chinese steel exporters were “dumping”, Trump also said he might introduce quotas, tariffs or both on steel imports from the country.

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Trump also said he understood China’s concerns in the historical context. “China, over many years, has been at war with Korea,” he said. But Lu noted the Korean kingdoms had been regarded as tributary states by the Chinese imperial court since the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). He said notable wars included Japan’s invasion of Korea in the Ming dynasty, when the Chinese emperor sent tens of thousands of troops to assist Korea, and two invasions by the Manchuria-based Qing dynasty in 1627 and 1636, when Korea was under the then collapsing Ming dynasty.

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Tensions between the US and China worsened after Pyongyang’s recent Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile test, which it said was capable of striking Alaska. The White House is reportedly considering new sanctions against small Chinese banks and other firms linked to North Korea’s ­nuclear and missile programmes within weeks, Reuters reported, citing two senior US officials.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang reiterated opposition to unilateral sanctions, apart from the UN Security Council resolutions, and said China had committed to “strictly implementing” UN sanctions.

Additional reporting by Catherine Wong