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View more articles by Jacob Fromer
Jacob Fromer is NK News's Washington DC correspondent. He previously worked in the U.S. Senate.
China has been “very helpful” to the U.S. in ongoing nuclear negotiations with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, President Donald Trump said at the White House on Wednesday.
Trump’s comments were the latest projection of optimism from a senior member of the Trump administration — including the president himself — despite months of diplomatic stalemate with Pyongyang and growing signs that China disagrees with, or even outright opposes, U.S. policy on the Korean peninsula.
Speaking at a signing ceremony for a trade deal with Beijing, Trump praised Chinese leader Xi Jinping for what he said was Xi’s assistance in dealing with the DPRK.
“China is helping us with North Korea,” Trump said. “China is helping us with a lot of the things that they could be helping us with — which you don’t see in the [trade] deal, but they have been very, very helpful with respect to Kim Jong Un, who has great respect for President Xi.”
“And it’s all a very, very beautiful game of chess, or a game of poker, or — I can’t use the word checkers, because it’s far greater than any checker game that I’ve ever seen,” the president said. “But it’s a very beautiful mosaic.”
“But China is giving us a lot of help, and we’re giving them a lot of help on things that we help them with,” he added.
Shortly after, President Trump repeated his point about U.S.-China cooperation, but switched to the future tense instead of the present tense.
“We’re going to be working very closely together on North Korea,” Trump said. “And as I said inside, it’s like a world-class chess match or poker match.”
“We are going to work together, and we’re going to work together for the benefit of our countries, but also, very importantly, for the benefit of the world.”
It is unclear how much coordination exists now between Washington and Beijing on questions related to the DPRK, especially on the issue of sanctions relief for Pyongyang.
China — along with Russia — recently introduced a resolution to the UN Security Council (UNSC) that would lift many of the most punishing sanctions currently in place on North Korea.
But the U.S. State Department strongly opposed the resolution, calling it “premature” — and Democratic and Republican U.S. Senators alike told NK News on Tuesday that more sanctions, not sanctions relief, are needed to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Treasury Department also announced that it had blacklisted a Chinese company (along with a North Korean company) for violating sanctions that ban DPRK citizens from working abroad.
For now at least, the Trump administration is expressing the view that China’s involvement is necessary for resolving the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said as much in remarks on Monday in California — although he did not say, as Trump implied on Wednesday, that China was actively helping the U.S.
“The issue of North Korea is unlikely to be resolved without the Chinese government also weighing in, making very clear to the North Korean leadership that it is also the Chinese expectation that North Korea will denuclearize,” Pompeo said.
“If we don’t have all the parties in the region — certainly the border countries, the primary border countries of North Korea — it’s unlikely this will happen as a result only of efforts of the United States,” he added. “So we want to check in with them.”
A similar view was also on display at the Democratic presidential primary debate on Tuesday night, in the state of Iowa, where Trump’s staunchest opponents are vying to run against him in this year’s election.
At the debate, former Vice President Joe Biden said, if elected president, that he would put “enormous pressure” on China to help the U.S. resolve the North Korean nuclear issue.
“I would be putting what I did as vice president — I met with Xi Jinping more than anyone else,” Biden said. “I would be putting pressure on China to put pressure on Korea, to cease and desist from their nuclear power, make — their efforts to deal with nuclear weapons.”
“I would reignite the relationship between Japan and South Korea,” he added, “and I would put enormous pressure, enormous pressure on China, because that’s also in their interests for them to put pressure on North Korea to cease and desist.”
Biden also said that he would not — unlike Trump — meet with Kim Jong Un without certain preconditions (he did not list what they were).
“I would not, I would not meet with — absent preconditions, I would not meet with the, quote, ‘Supreme Leader,’ who said Joe Biden is a rabid dog, he should be beaten to death with a stick,” he said.
“And,” Biden added, “he got a love letter from Trump right after that.”