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Trump Presses China on North Korea, But Beijing Has Its Own Agenda: Analysts

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Qiao Long and Wen Yuqing  |  Radio Free Asia

Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, summit in Beijing (

As China rolled out the red carpet in a lavish official welcome for visiting U.S. President Donald Trump, signing U.S.$250 billion worth of economic cooperation agreements, pressing Beijing to act to put pressure on North Korea over its nuclear program was among the top priorities for Washington.
After a full state reception with guards of honor from all three services of the People’s Liberation Army outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a joint news conference that was — unusually — broadcast live on state television. No questions were permitted, however.
Trump called on Beijing to use its influence to resolve the North Korean nuclear standoff. Trump wants Xi to put further pressure on North Korea and its development of nuclear weapons by cutting any remaining financial ties with Pyongyang, saying: “China can fix this problem quickly and easily.”
Trump also pressed Xi on Beijing’s U.S.$26.6 billion trade surplus with the U.S., although he said he blamed Xi’s predecessors, calling the Chinese president “a very special man.”
Xi responded by hailing Trump’s state visit as “successful and historic,” pledging to continue to cooperate with the Trump administration on issues of mutual concern and benefit.
“For China, cooperation is the only real choice; only a win-win situation can lead to an even better future,” Xi said, adding that Beijing has always wanted a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.
But Xi’s stated willingness to work with his U.S. counterpart on a number of issues also serves the newly exalted president’s own agenda, analysts told RFA on Thursday.

Domestic audience

It is intended to demonstrate to a domestic audience that he is leading China into a “new era,” where it takes up a central place in world affairs, political commentator Wei Pu wrote in a commentary for RFA’s Cantonese Service.
“Xi Jinping’s ‘Chinese Dream’ is now being implemented on the world stage,” Wei wrote.
While Trump’s priority is North Korea, Beijing may already have done everything it thinks it can do to help, he said.
According to Beijing-based economist Hu Xingdou, there is a limit to how much pressure the ruling Chinese Communist Party is willing to put on Pyongyang over its sixth nuclear weapons test earlier this year, for fear of triggering the collapse of the existing regime and a refugee crisis on its doorstep.
“It is difficult for China to cut 100 percent of its trade with North Korea, especially energy such as oil,” Hu said. “If they do cut off all trade, including oil, the North Korean regime could collapse very quickly.”
“Either that, or China believes there will be a large number of refugees entering China, and there is also the danger of nuclear leaks,” he said.
Tseng Fu-sheng, an analyst at Taiwan’s National Policy Research Foundation, agreed that fear of instability drove China’s stance.
“If [Beijing] goes all out to with excessive economic sanctions against North Korea, it could cause massive instability on the Korean peninsula,” Tseng said. “This would go against Beijing’s national security strategy.”
“And yet the U.S. keeps coming back to make the same old points to Beijing,” he said.

Human rights sidelined

On trade, Hu said he believes the U.S. could still be the winner in the trading relationship, in spite of the size of the deficit.
“China annually imports about U.S.$100 billion of products from the United States, and has just now signed more than [U.S.$250 billion] worth of deals, which will probably amount to the value of Chinese imports from the U.S. over the next two years,” Hu said.
Anhui-based former state prosecutor Shen Liangqing said human rights issues appear to have been sidelined on this visit.
“Previous U.S. administrations probably raised human rights issues with China more that the Trump administration has, but China is a major power now, and one of the largest economies,” Shen said. “Nobody can avoid dealing with China.”
“My feeling is that the North Korean nuclear issue is more important than trade or than other human rights issues right now, as far as the U.S. is concerned,” Shen said.
Meanwhile, according to Wei Pu, there are three stages to putting Xi’s “Chinese dream” into practice.
“Step one is that China should be placed on an equal footing with the United States, and step two is that China will replace the U.S. at the center of world affairs,” Wei wrote. “Step three will prove for all to see that the China model is superior to the Western one.”
“Since Trump became president, Xi has presented China as a stable power that can replace the United States, is willing to shoulder global responsibilities, and which makes generous investments in Asia and Europe,” Wei wrote.
“Xi’s desire for China to be on an equal footing with the U.S. is what is meant by Xi’s phrase ‘a new relationship between great powers’.”
Copyright © 1998-2016, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036

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