President Donald Trump said that China had not succeeded in getting North Korea to curb its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Trump’s statement came a day after the death of Otto Warmbier, an American college student who had been detained and brutalized in North Korea.
Besides, it was conveyed in an almost cavalier tweet, given how ardently he had sought the cooperation of China President Xi Jinping, The New York Times reads.
However, the latest developments are a major complication for Trump’s approach to North Korea, which he has called America’s most urgent foreign threat. He now faces a range of unattractive options: the use of military force; more coercive sanctions, including on Chinese banks that do business with the North; or some kind of opening to Kim.
“While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out,” Trump wrote on Twitter on the eve of a high-level meeting of Chinese and American officials in Washington. “At least I know China tried!”
The impact of Trump’s statement or how it will affect Wednesday’s Chinese-American meetings, cannot be determined. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and other American officials had been planning to press their Chinese counterparts on North Korea. On Tuesday afternoon, senior officials said they were still trying to gauge the meaning of the president’s tweet.
Reports late on Tuesday of renewed activity at a North Korean nuclear site added to the sense of urgency, and underlined how China had failed to curb Kim Jong-un’s provocative actions.
Administration officials said they were considering imposing so-called secondary sanctions on a variety of Chinese banks and companies with ties to North Korea. Such a step would greatly increase the pressure on Kim’s government, but it could also antagonize the Chinese government.
In the short run, Warmbier’s death from a brain injury suffered while he was a prisoner makes engagement with the North seem a more remote possibility. Trump has said in the past that he would be willing to meet with Kim if the conditions were right.
“Clearly, we’re moving further away, not closer, to those conditions being enacted,” Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said. “I would not suggest that we’re moving any closer.”
But China’s failure to do more to pressure North Korea — which was little surprise to anyone who follows the issue — also leaves the United States with few better alternatives to diplomacy. Some American officials had hoped to use the secret negotiations to obtain Warmbier’s release as the predicate for a dialogue with the North on other issues.
The tension between those who want to shelve engagement and take a much tougher line on North Korea and those who want to continue probing for openings is reflected in the administration’s ambivalent response after Warmbier was flown home in a coma last week, The New York Times writes.
At first, the White House and State Department said very little about the case, beyond expressing relief that he had been reunited with his family. But as outrage over the death of Warmbier, a 22-year-old college student, grew on social media and cable television, both released statements late on Monday condemning North Korea for his treatment.
Even on Tuesday, however, Trump appeared to place more of the blame on his predecessor, Barack Obama, for failing to negotiate Warmbier’s release than on Kim. “It’s a disgrace what happened to Otto,” the president said.
“Frankly, if he were brought home sooner, I think the results would have been a lot different.”
But even as he implicitly criticized his predecessor, the President appeared to walk away from one of the biggest gambles of his presidency.