North Korea nuclear crisis

Donald Trump blames China for his decision to pull US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s North Korea trip

Trump tweets that China is not ‘helping with the process of denuclearisation as they once were’ so he had to delay Pompeo’s planned trip to North Korea

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 August, 2018, 2:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 August, 2018, 11:27pm

US President Donald Trump has blamed China for his decision to pull Secretary of State Mike Pompeo out of a planned trip to North Korea, saying that Beijing is holding back denuclearisation with inaction.

“I have asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to go to North Korea, at this time, because I feel we are not making sufficient progress with respect to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Trump tweeted on Friday, barely two months after his June meeting with the North’s Kim Jong-un in Singapore.

In further tweets, he added that he “[does] not believe” China is helping with the process of denuclearisation “because of our much tougher Trading stance”, and that Pompeo would head to North Korea “in the near future, most likely after our Trading relationship with China is resolved”.

The US and China have been locked in a trade war for months, with each side ratcheting up tariffs on the other’s imports. China is the North’s leading trade partner, and is widely believed to hold the greatest sway over the North Korean government.

But China watchers blamed Trump’s poor negotiating strategy – not China – for the stalled North Korea nuclear talks and the decision to put off Pompeo’s trip.

Suzanne DiMaggio, a Korea expert at non-partisan think tank New America who conducts unofficial dialogue with North Korean officials on behalf of the US government, said on Twitter that “by overhyping the outcomes of his meeting with Kim Jong-un in Singapore, including declaring that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat, Trump has given Pyongyang the advantage and undercut his own negotiators.”

“Placing the blame on Beijing is not the way to dig out of this self-created hole,” DiMaggio said.

Meanwhile, she said, “North Koreans' separate tracks of dialogue with Seoul, Beijing and Moscow are moving ahead at a quick pace, leaving chances to revive the ‘maximum pressure’ campaign at close to zero.”

DiMaggio was referring to the programme of crippling sanctions previously put in place to try to force Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

China could erode US alliances in Asia if Pompeo heads to North Korea

Bruce Klingner, a North Korea expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington, said, “It’s not fair to blame China for an obvious lack of progress in the nuclear talks.”

“I disagree with those who think China is the one that stiffens North Korea’s spine,” Klingner said.

“I blame the US’ poor negotiating and North Korea’s intransigence, not that China is either pushing or controlling or instigating North Korea to have a firm policy.”

Bonnie Glaser, a director for the China Power Project at the bipartisan Centre for Security and International Studies, said, “If Trump is going to suspend talks with North Korea until trade problems with China are resolved, it will take a long time.”

The decision to postpone Pompeo’s trip came a day after the secretary of state appointed Stephen Biegun, a senior executive with the Ford Motor Co, to be his special envoy for North Korea and said he and Biegun would visit next week.

Fears of repercussions from halting US-South Korea military drills

On Saturday South Korea called the US decision to call off the trip “unfortunate” and said that continued diplomacy was most crucial in resolving the nuclear standoff with Pyongyang.

The State Department never confirmed details of Pompeo’s trip, but it had been expected that Pompeo would be in Pyongyang for at least several hours on Monday, according to several diplomatic sources familiar with the plan.

While describing the delayed trip as a setback, the Foreign Ministry in Seoul said South Korea expects China to continue serving a “constructive role” in international efforts to solve the nuclear crisis and noted that Beijing continues to express commitment to fully implement sanctions against the North.

“It’s most important to maintain a long-term view while maintaining a momentum for dialogue and concentrate diplomatic efforts to faithfully implement the agreements from the summits between South Korea and North Korea and between North Korea and the United States, instead of attaching meaning to each change in the situation,” a statement said.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa spoke with Pompeo over the phone and agreed that the allies should work to keep the atmosphere of dialogue alive, it said.

DiMaggio speculated that Trump’s goal in postponing the trip was to prevent another setback in the midst of his growing legal problems at home and their implications for the upcoming midterm election in November.

“As Trump faces the worst week of his presidency, the last thing he wants to add to his mounting troubles is Pompeo coming home from North Korea empty-handed yet again,” DiMaggio said.

“North Korea is supposed to be Trump's big foreign policy win.”

Although he tweeted that Pompeo would not be visiting North Korea, Trump attempted to stoke his relationship with Kim.

“I would like to send my warmest regards and respect to Chairman Kim,” he said. “I look forward to seeing him soon!”

North Korea not living up to its summit promise: US group

After more a year of escalating tensions defined by nuclear and missile tests, new sanctions and “fire and fury” rhetoric, Trump made history meeting Kim earlier this year.

In the run-up to the summit both nations engaged in hard-nosed negotiations, with Trump publicly calling off the meeting in an effort to push Kim to agree to nuclear concessions.

During the summit, the pair signed a vague joint statement in which the North agreed to denuclearise, but which left nearly all details undefined.

“There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea,” Trump declared on Twitter after the meeting.

“Before taking office people were assuming that we were going to War with North Korea. President Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem,” he added. “No longer – sleep well tonight!”

How to break the stalemate on the Korean peninsula

Trump had kept up the positive tone as recently as Tuesday at a campaign-style rally in West Virginia maintaining that “we’re doing well with North Korea.”

“There’s been no missile launches. There’s been no rocket launches,” he added.

At the same rally, Trump also seemed to take a different tone on China, saying he had withheld some criticism of China because “I wanted them to help us with North Korea and they have.”

Additional reporting by Associated Press