President Donald Trump warned he could begin joint military exercises with South Korea and Japan that will be “far bigger than ever” if progress stalls on North Korea nuclear talks.
Trump issued the warning in a series of tweets Wednesday which he described as a White House statement after complaining that China was hindering the negotiations due to trade disputes with the U.S.
Earlier Wednesday, Trump told reporters at the White House negotiations with North Korea are “doing well,” but “China makes it much more difficult.”
The White House statement asserted that China is providing Pyongyang with “considerable aid, including money, fuel, fertilizer and various other commodities.”
The comments come just days after Trump called off a trip to North Korea by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, saying there hadn’t been enough progress in talks aimed at denuclearizing the Korean peninsula. In a series of tweets Friday, Trump said Pompeo would likely return to North Korea after U.S. trade disputes with China were resolved.
The U.S. has leaned heavily on China to help enforce tougher sanctions imposed last year against Kim Jong Un’s regime because the country is Pyongyang’s largest trading partner and shares a border with the isolated nation. China “is the route to North Korea,” Trump said Wednesday.
The trade war between the U.S. and China is primed to escalate further after their governments failed to make progress in two days of talks last week. The two sides had met with low expectations for the meetings and no further talks had been scheduled, a person familiar with the discussions said.
In the past week, while the two sides were talking, the U.S. slapped tariffs on a further $16 billion in Chinese imports. Retaliation by Beijing will bring the amount of trade affected by the dispute to $100 billion, with more to come. Looming now are new tariffs that Trump has threatened to impose on some $200 billion in annual imports from China, and Beijing’s already-promised retaliation.
“I don’t like to call it a trade war,” Trump said Wednesday.
In the months since Trump and Kim met in Singapore, the U.S. has struggled to show signs of progress in its bid to get North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. Pompeo conceded before the Senate recently that Kim’s regime continues producing fissile material and has provided no inventory of its nuclear program and facilities.
In a diplomatic gesture to Pyongyang in June, Trump suspended what he called “war games” with South Korea, saying he believed Kim “wants to get it done” on denuclearization. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Tuesday said the U.S. doesn’t plan to suspend more joint military drills amid reports that North Korea was rejecting American demands to give up nuclear warheads.
The U.S. has conducted military exercises on the Korean peninsula since the mid-1950s and holds a handful of joint operations with South Korea every year, which the Pentagon calls a means of ensuring the two forces are able to work together in the event of an attack. The annual drills, separate from regular training programs, have long angered North Korea’s leaders.
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