Donald Trump, Xi Jinping discuss North Korea as Russia pushes back on sanctions

US President Donald Trump speaking at an event with energy workers at the Andeavor Refinery in Mandan, North Dakota, on September 6, 2017.
US President Donald Trump speaking at an event with energy workers at the Andeavor Refinery in Mandan, North Dakota, on September 6, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON/BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) -  US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke again about how to resolve the North Korean crisis as the United States seeks support for more stringent UN sanctions at a Security Council meeting next week.

“We will not be putting up with what’s happening in North Korea,” Mr Trump told reporters on Wednesday (Sept 6) after the conversation. The two leaders had a “very, very frank and very strong call", he added.

Asked about possible US military action, the President said, “That’s not our first choice, but we’ll see what happens.”

Mr Xi reiterated China’s commitment to a denuclearised Korean peninsula while Mr Trump emphasised Beijing’s role in influencing North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, according to a summary of the call published in Chinese state-run media.

The report did not say any breakthrough was achieved ahead of a Security Council session the US has requested for Sept 11.

The call between the US and Chinese leaders came after Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier in the day expressed concern that halting oil supplies to North Korea would hurt its people. Mr Putin’s comments followed a request from South Korean President Moon Jae In that he support more stringent United Nations sanctions.

“Stopping oil supply to North Korea is inevitable,” Mr Moon’s spokesman Yoon Young Chan quoted him as saying. “I’m asking for Russia’s cooperation.”

Mr Putin explained at length to Mr Moon that sanctions would not work on North Korea and that halting its oil supply would damage hospitals, his foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov said after the meeting, echoing the Russian leader’s earlier remarks that such action would be “useless and ineffective".

On Tuesday, Mr Putin told reporters that Russia’s trade with North Korea is “almost zero”, and that its quarterly exports of 40,000 tons of oil to the country are “as good as nothing” relative to its global sales.

Even so, Mr Ushakov said the talks had led to more “elements of commonality”.

The two leaders’ interaction raises questions over how far the Security Council will go in punishing Mr Kim’s regime after it conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sunday. Russia and China both hold vetoes and have opposed doing anything that could lead to the collapse of Mr Kim’s regime.

Mr Trump has vowed to escalate sanctions also has warned North Korea of “fire and fury” if it continues threatening America. He has also threatened to cut off trade with all countries that do business with North Korea. China is North Korea’s biggest trading partner.

In a conversation with Mr Putin on Monday, Mr Moon had said it was time for the UN to seriously consider blocking North Korea’s foreign currency sources by cutting off crude oil supplies and banning its overseas labor.

"If we fail to stop North Korea’s provocations now, it could sink into an uncontrollable situation,” Mr Moon said in remarks before the meeting with Mr Putin. “I want to seek a fundamental solution to resolve the North Korea nuclear problem here.”

Mr Putin called for all sides to calm down. “There’s no point in giving into emotions and backing North Korea into a corner,” he said. “More than ever now we need to show restraint and avoid any steps that could escalate tensions.”

“They’ll eat grass, but they won’t abandon their programme unless they feel secure,” Mr Putin told reporters Tuesday at an emerging markets summit in Xiamen, China, which was hosted by Mr Xi.

North Korea has reportedly been preparing another launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could come before it marks the anniversary of its founding on Sept 9. Mr Kim claimed on Sunday that he could fit a warhead onto an ICBM capable of striking the continental US.

Ahead of his visit to Vladivostok for talks with Mr Moon and Mr Putin, Japanese Prime Minitser Shinzo Abe told reporters in Tokyo on Wednesday that he wants North Korea to understand it has “no bright future” if it continues on its current path.

China has been considering closing a customs post along its border with North Korea, according to the Daily NK, a Seoul-based website that says it gathers information from informants inside the isolated nation. The Quanhe customs house in Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, near the Russian border, is the second-biggest of nine posts between China and North Korea.

South Korea is watching closely for any radiation leaks after North Korea detonated its nuclear device, Unification Ministry spokesman Baik Tae Hyun said in a briefing on Wednesday. The nation’s nuclear safety commission said it had not detected any so far.

Additional launchers for the US missile shield known as Thaad will be installed in South Korea on Thursday afternoon, Yonhap News reported, citing activists at the site. Mr Moon had previously sought to delay its deployment.

The deployment of Thaad “does not help addressing the security concerns of relevant countries", Mr Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said at a briefing in Beijing on Wednesday. “It will only severely undermine the strategic balance in the region, jeopardise strategic and security interests of the regional countries, including China, aggravate the tension and confrontation, and further complicate the Peninsular issue.”