In a sign of widening differences, China has told the United States not to link trade to cooperation on resolving the North Korea nuclear issue.
This came after US President Donald Trump last Saturday accused the Chinese of not doing anything to restrain Pyongyang even as they had benefited from trade with the US.
"We believe that the North Korea nuclear issue and China-US trade are two issues that are in two completely different domains," Vice- Minister for Commerce Qian Keming told a press briefing yesterday. They are not related and "should not be discussed together", he said.
Mr Qian was also quoted as saying that China-US trade has been mutually beneficial, and both sides have gained a great deal from bilateral trade and investment cooperation.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry, in a statement sent to Reuters, said that the North Korean nuclear issue did not arise because of China and that everyone needed to work together to resolve it.
Mr Trump had said on Twitter: "I am very disappointed in China. 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." He added: "We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!"
China's response to Mr Trump came as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Mr Trump spoke for 50 minutes on the phone yesterday and agreed that more action was needed on North Korea.
TWO SEPARATE ISSUES
We believe that the North Korea nuclear issue and China-US trade are two issues that are in two completely different domains.
CHINESE VICE-MINISTER FOR COMMERCE QIAN KEMING
I am very disappointed in China. 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.
U.S. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, in a tweet last Saturday.
Pyongyang test-fired its second intercontinental ballistic missile in a month last Friday night, with some analysts saying the missile could reach as far as Chicago in the American heartland.
Mr Abe told reporters after the phone conversation that international society, "including Russia and China", needed to increase pressure on the North, noting that repeated efforts to find a peaceful solution thus far had not yet borne fruit.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that "the role that China can play is extremely important".
But China has repeatedly said the North Korean issue is between the US and South Korea on one side, and North Korea on the other.
It has said that it would carry out fully the sanctions against North Korea under the United Nations Security Council resolutions.
It has also urged both sides to take a step back - with North Korea halting its nuclear and missile programmes and the US and South Korea suspending their military exercises - for talks to take place.
But US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Sunday that the ball was now in China's court, and that it must decide whether to back stronger UN sanctions.
"An additional Security Council resolution that does not significantly increase the international pressure on North Korea is of no value," she said.
However, Chinese analysts say China would not agree to severing trade ties with North Korea and that Mr Trump's attempt to link Sino-US trade to the North Korean issue did not help matters.
The official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary yesterday that China wants balanced trade with the US as well as lasting peace on the Korean peninsula.
"However, to realise these goals, Beijing needs a more cooperative partner in the White House, not one that piles blame on China for the United States' failures."
US expert Shi Yinhong of Renmin University warned that China's patience is not limitless.
Noting that it was a mistake for Mr Trump to stake the broad and complicated Sino-US relationship on the intractable North Korean issue, he warned that the US could end up seriously damaging Sino-US ties.