Abe swipes at China, Russia after Trump call on North Korea

US President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, on July 8, 2017.
US President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, on July 8, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called on China and Russia to do more to stop North Korea after the isolated regime test-fired its second intercontinental ballistic missile in a month.

Abe, speaking after a phone call with US President Donald Trump, told reporters on Monday (July 31) that they agreed more action was needed to mitigate the threat from North Korea. The comments echoed a statement over the weekend from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who called China and Russia “economic enablers” of the regime.

“We have made consistent efforts to resolve the North Korean problem in a peaceful manner, but North Korea has ignored that entirely and escalated the situation in a one-sided way,” Abe said in Tokyo. “The international community, starting with China and Russia, must take this obvious fact seriously and increase pressure.”

The comments add to a growing rift between the world’s major powers over how to respond to Kim Jong Un’s regime. The US and its allies want China and Russia – which account for the bulk of North Korea’s trade – to cut off financial flows to the country, while Beijing and Moscow are pushing for both sides to compromise.

China’s biggest fears related to North Korea remain a collapse of Kim’s regime that sparks a protracted refugee crisis, and a beefed-up US military presence on its border.

Trump and Abe “committed to increasing economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea, and to convincing other countries to follow suit,” the White House said in a statement on Sunday. It said North Korea “poses a grave and growing direct threat” to the US and its allies in the region.

United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley announced she wouldn’t call an emergency session of the Security Council to discuss the launch because “there is no point” if it produces nothing of consequence. Earlier this month, Russia and China blocked US-led efforts to expand penalties against North Korea in a draft UN Security Council resolution condemning the July 4 missile test.

Trump has expressed periodic public frustration with Beijing over the pace of its efforts to curtail Kim. Late Saturday he again linked China’s actions to the broader US-China trade relationship.

“I am very disappointed in China,” he said in a series of Twitter posts. “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. We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!”

China’s Vice Commerce Minister Qian Keming said at a briefing on Monday that the North Korea nuclear issue should be kept separate from the US-China trade relationship.

“We think the North Korea nuclear issue and China-US trade are issues that are in two completely different domains. They aren’t related. They should not be discussed together,” Qian said.

China’s Foreign Ministry, in a statement sent to Reuters responding to Trump’s tweets, said the North Korean nuclear issue did not arise because of China and that everyone needed to work together to seek a resolution. “All parties should have a correct understanding of this,” it said, adding that the essence of Sino-US trade was mutually beneficial and win-win.

State-run Chinese tabloid the Global Times said in an editorial on Monday Trump’s “wrong tweet” was of no help, and that Trump did not understand the issues. “Pyongyang is determined to develop its nuclear and missile programme and does not care about military threats from the US and South Korea. How could Chinese sanctions change the situation?” said the paper, which is published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily.

China wants both balanced trade with the US  and lasting peace on the Korean peninsula, its official Xinhua news agency added in a commentary. “However, to realise these goals, Beijing needs a more cooperative partner in the White House, not one who piles blame on China for the United States’ failures,” it added.

South Korean President Moon Jae In, who is on vacation, planned to have a phone call with Trump soon, a senior official at the Presidential Blue House said. 

Abe on Monday signalled continued support for the US, on which Japan relies to provide the protection of a “nuclear umbrella”.

After the latest ICBM test, two Air Force B-1B bombers conducted bilateral exercises with South Korean and Japanese fighter jets.  Abe said on Monday that he and Trump “fully agreed” that more action was needed on North Korea.

Japan last week announced new sanctions on the regime. The targets included two Chinese organisations thought to have dealings with the country, which it did not name.  The latest North Korean missile, which landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, reached an altitude of about 3,700km, according to South Korea’s military, almost 1,000km higher than the previous test. That indicates progress toward North Korea’s goal of developing a missile capable of hitting US cities.

North Korea’s state media cited Kim as claiming he could now strike the entire continental US. In a development likely to raise tensions in Japan, national broadcaster NHK showed footage that appeared to indicate the missile landing in the sea was visible from the north of the country.