WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump praised China for its help in pressuring North Korea, while defending his softening stance on trade and other issues with the Asian giant, in an interview that aired yesterday.
In comments made to Fox News, Mr Trump cited the strength of his newfound relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping when explaining why he has dropped his past criticism of China.
"Now, what am I going to do? Start a trade war with China while in the middle of Xi working on a bigger problem, frankly, with North Korea?" said Mr Trump. "So, I'm dealing with China with great respect. I have great respect for him. Now, we'll see what he can do."
He added: "What am I going to do? In the middle of him talking with North Korea I'm going to hit them with currency manipulation? This is the fake media that just does a number.
"Think of it. He's working so nicely. Many coal ships have been sent back, fuel has been sent back. They're not dealing the same way. Nobody's ever seen it like that."
The turning point in Mr Trump's relationship with China appears to have come when he hosted Mr Xi to a summit at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida earlier this month.
During the US presidential campaign last year, Mr Trump harshly attacked Beijing as a currency manipulator and threatened to slap 45 per cent tariffs on Chinese imports. Since taking office, however, US tensions with North Korea have soared amid a drumbeat of missile tests and fears that Pyongyang may be readying a sixth nuclear test.
Experts in the United States believe only China has sufficient economic and political leverage to restrain Pyongyang's drive to develop a long-range missile capable of hitting the US mainland with a nuclear warhead.
Meanwhile, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has said the failed North Korean missile test on Sunday was not an intercontinental ballistic missile but still a reckless move. "It shows why we are working so closely right now with the Chinese... to try to get this under control and aim for the denuclearised Korean peninsula," he said..
And in Beijing yesterday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said diplomatic means must be used to resolve tensions on the Korean peninsula. "As long as it is a talk, China is willing to support it: either it is formal or informal, one-track or dual-track, bilateral, trilateral or quadrilateral," he said.
Chinese experts say they detect an opening for negotiations.
"Mr Trump said something interesting during his campaign - that if necessary he could meet Kim Jong Un and have a sandwich with him," said Mr Yang Xiyu, a former diplomat from China who led his country's delegation to the so-called six-party talks in the mid-2000s.
"There is only one person who has the authority to make a fundamental decision - yes or no - and that's Kim," Mr Yang said.
"China can facilitate a three-way dialogue among the top leaders of China, North Korea and the United States so we can at least try the shortcut," he added.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, NYTIMES