With just one day to go until the Trump administration launches the first salvo in what could develop into a full-scale trade war between the US and China, there is the issue of a diplomatic (hopefully) resolution of escalating situation in North Korea, one which Citi today said is “increasingly likely” to involve military action. On this issue, China is becoming increasingly displeased with Trump’s relentless twitter badgering, and as AFP reports, “Trump-style outbursts are no way to get China to bend to the US’s will.”
The animosity between D.C. and Beijing has been building up for months, as the two capitals have long traded blame over the failure to rein in the North, but last week’s breakthrough in North Korean missile technology has raised the specter of a strike by Pyongyang on American cities, escalating the rhetoric.
“I am very disappointed in China,” President Donald Trump tweeted after the North boasted last week that the entire mainland US was within range of its intercontinental ballistic missiles. “Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk.”
While China – North Korea’s main trade partner and ally – has repeatedly countered that it does not hold the key to the crisis and has rejected Trump’s attempts to link the issue to the trade relationship, keeping official responses to Trump’s 140-character outbursts restrained, state media has been less muted.
“Trump is quite a personality,” an opinion piece published Monday by the Xinhua state news agency said. “But emotional venting cannot become a guiding policy for solving the nuclear issue … and even less should (the US) stab China in the back.”
It’s not just Trump who has repeatedly urged China to use its economic sway over North Korea to curb the regime’s nuclear program, even as Beijing insists dialogue is the only practical way forward. Recently Rex Tillerson derided China and Russia as “economic enablers” that bear “unique and special responsibility” for the growing threat posed by the North. And the US’s ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, spurned a UN response to the latest ICBM launch in favor of bomber flights and missile-defense-system tests, saying the time for talk on North Korea was “over.”
Such admonishments will not change the way China operates, analysts say.
“Trump might be brash and have an ‘in your face’ blunt style, but Beijing’s approach to Washington stays relatively the same,” Xu Guoqi, a China-US relations expert at the University of Hong Kong, told AFP.
“While Trump tweets his positions to the world, Beijing keeps its cards closer to its chest. (China) will never dance to Trump’s tune.” And with “today’s America weaker and more isolated in the world,” China has even less reason to respond, he said.
Meanwhile, Beijing authorities have reacted with caution to Trump’s unpredictable remarks, which have ranged from describing the country as a “currency manipulator” to calling President Xi Jinping “a very good man.” Relations had warmed following Trump’s pledge to honor the key “One China” policy and Xi’s visit to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida this April, but they have since soured again over North Korea.
Worse, if the US does not ease off against an implacable China, observers believe a deterioration is inevitable. “If the Americans continue to blame China while shifting away from its own obligation to defuse the crisis, the two powers are likely to have more quarrels,” said Zhong Zhenming, a China-US relations expert at Shanghai’s Tongji University. “(This is) exactly the result Pyongyang hopes to see,” he told AFP.
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And while we await for the official announcement of Trump’s trade probe into China’s intellectual property and trade practices, it already took steps to further antagonize Beijing when in June the US slapped unprecedented sanctions on a Chinese bank accused of laundering North Korean cash after Trump tweeted that China’s efforts to curtail North Korea’s nuclear program had “not worked out.”
Still, some analysts believe Trump would stop short of following through on repeated threats to start a trade war, his main and perhaps last bargaining chip: “Neither China nor America could afford a trade war,” Zhong said.
Perhaps, but to the increasingly irrational White House, this may be the only option. An editorial in the state-run Global Times, a nationalistic tabloid, warned that the US would lose in a trade dispute with China, which as the top holder of US Treasury bonds “is actually supporting the dollar.”
“Washington had better not threaten China with trade since China has the tools to safeguard its economic interests,” it said.