Can Donald Trump build a united front at the UN against North Korea’s nuclear threat?
US president will be ‘extremely tough’ on North Korea when he speaks at the United Nations but will cleave closely to China on the ideological front
Donald Trump will be “extremely tough” on North Korea when he delivers a speech at the United Nations on Tuesday, and will cleave more closely to China on the ideological front as the president sees curbing Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions as his most pressing objective.
“One of the chief regimes that will be singled out is North Korea and all of its destabilising, hostile and dangerous behaviour,” a senior White House official told reporters.
To build a united front in confronting Pyongyang, the US will focus on “outcomes, not ideologies”, the official said. The US wants “to work towards common goals with countries, not to dictate to them how to live, and not to dictate to them what kind of system of government they should have”.
Such an approach would break with Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, whose final speech to the UN General Assembly focused on human rights, civil society and the rule of law.
Obama referred to the importance of human rights, an issue that has dogged US-China relations since the two countries established diplomatic relations in the 1970s, three times in the speech he delivered a year ago.
Trump has fostered close ties with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, reiterating a commitment to work with Beijing on the issue several times recently through direct calls and within the framework of the UN Security Council. The White House conducted its briefing soon after Xi and Trump spoke directly to reiterate their commitment to jointly confront military threats from North Korea.
In a second phone call between the two leaders in as many weeks, “the two leaders committed to maximising pressure on North Korea through vigorous enforcement of United Nations Security Council resolutions”, according to a White House statement.
Xi and Trump “discussed Trump’s visit to China later this year and the Korean Peninsula situation over the phone late Monday,” China’s state news agency Xinhua said in a report.
Traditionally an ally and close trading partner to North Korea, China nonetheless supported new sanctions resolutions brought forward by the US last week. The latest moves were curtailed trade in energy products with Pyongyang, which cut supplies of refined petroleum fuel by more than half, and a complete ban on the country’s textile exports.
Textiles had been North Korea’s largest earner of hard currency after coal, iron ore and other minerals, trade of which was targeted in a sanctions resolution supported by China last month. The two most recent resolutions aim to cut North Korea’s export earnings by about US$2.3 billion annually.
Still, Trump’s UN address will likely include some jabs at China, particularly with respect to Beijing’s enforcement of existing sanctions against North Korea and bilateral trade and investment issues.
“We will talk as well about the enablement of the North Korean regime and what that means,” the White House official said, touching on an issue that has been a sore point between Trump’s administration and China. “Other nations must do their part to confront the threat.”
The official spoke of multiple threats to American sovereignty including “trade and international arrangements that haven’t properly considered US interests”.
However strong it might be, Sino-US cooperation hasn’t yet subdued Pyongyang.
After North Korea sparked global condemnation with its sixth nuclear test then fired a second missile over Japan in less than a month, state media said Pyongyang is seeking an “equilibrium” of military force with the US.
North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, said the country was close to the goal of completing its nuclear force and should use all state power to finish as it has “nearly reached the terminal”, the official KCNA news agency reported.
Trump and Xi will have more time to discuss the trade and sanctions enforcement when the two meet, as planned, in November for their second summit.
Xi said “Beijing attaches great importance to Trump’s state visit to China, and called on both sides to work closely, so as to ensure a fruitful trip and motivate further development of China-US relations”, according to the Xinhua report.
Trump announced last week that he intends to visit China, Japan and South Korea later this year, which would be his first trip to Asia as president. Trump said a US delegation would likely make the trip in November.