As he prepares to embark Friday on a major 12-day foreign policy trip to five Asian countries, President Donald Trump is finalizing plans to secure China’s involvement in curbing the threat posed by North Korea, officials say.
Trump is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping next Wednesday in Beijing, a day after a planned stop in South Korea. Senior administration officials have said Trump will have specific demands for his Chinese counterpart --- and will be prepared to threaten consequences if China does not abide them.
Trump is expected to request that Xi impose limits on oil exports and coal imports with the rogue dictatorship, as well as broader limits on financial transactions with the regime, Reuters reported. China is responsible for more than 90 percent of all trade with North Korea.
Behind the scenes, Trump may also insist that the Chinese work to convince the North Korean government in Pyongyang to open nuclear disarmament discussions with Washington.
But a former U.S. intelligence official who is informally advising the White House on Asia policy told the Washington Times that the administration is not entirely sure what it can accomplish during the president’s visit to Beijing.
Experts say it is likely that, even if Trump's goals are uncertain of being achieved, the president will rely on various pressure points during his discussion with Xi.
One indirect tool at Trump’s disposal, U.S. officials told Reuters, is the threat of imposing further economic sanctions on North Korea. The move could destabilize the already fragile North Korean economy and lead to a surge of poor refugees from North Korea into China, creating a logistical headache and a potential humanitarian crisis for Beijing.
The president could also cause problems for Xi by formally investigating Chinese entities who administration officials say strong-arm U.S. companies into divulging proprietary intellectual property. The Washington Times reported that Trump, who first raised the issue with Xi during an August phone call, is prepared to renew the threat during next week's meeting.
And Trump, who has previously threatened to reduce China’s access to U.S. markets if it does not take a harder line on North Korea, will likely target the trade imbalance between the U.S. and China. China has the largest bilateral trade surplus with the U.S. of any country, by a significant margin.
Trump will probably tell the Chinese president, "‘I’m coming after you on trade,’” Christopher Johnson, a China analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Washington Times.
But Xi has sent signals that he may not be receptive to the White House’s position. After North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un sent Xi a congratulatory message for recently winning a second term as China’s Communist Party leader, Xi called for “stable” relations between the two countries.
“I wish that under the new situation the Chinese side would make efforts with the [North Korean] side to promote the relations between the two parties and the two countries to sustainable soundness and stable development,” Xi wrote, according to North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency. Xi added that China and North Korea should focus on “defending regional peace and stability and common prosperity.”