Donald Trump has praised China for its help in pressuring North Korea, while defending his softening stance on trade and other issues with the Asian giant. Mr Trump cited the strength of his new-found relationship with President Xi Jinping in 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 him working on a bigger problem, frankly, with North Korea?” he said, speaking on the sidelines of the annual White House Easter egg roll.
He continued: “So, I’m dealing with China with great respect. I have great respect for him. Now, we’ll see what he can do. 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. Nobody’s ever seen such a positive response on our behalf from China.”
The turning point in Mr Trump’s relationship with China appears to have come when he met with President Xi at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida on April 6-7.
During the US presidential campaign, 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 Pyongyang may be readying a sixth nuclear test.
US experts believe that 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.
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis says North Korea’s latest failed missile launch was a reckless act of provocation.
He commented on the weekend missile launch in an interview with reporters travelling with him on Tuesday to Saudi Arabia, where he begins a weeklong Mideast tour.
His language was stronger than in an initial written statement he issued shortly after the launch, in which he simply said he was aware of the failure.
“The leader of North Korea again recklessly tried to provoke something by launching a missile,” he said.
General Mattis did not identify the type of missile but said it was not of intercontinental range, meaning it could not reach US territory. He did not comment on what might have caused the missile to fail.
General Mattis credited China with trying to help get the North Korea situation “under control” with the goal of denuclearising the Korean Peninsula.
Asked about his visit to Saudi Arabia, General Mattis said the desert kingdom is a “pillar of our security framework for the region.”
The US military is providing support for a Saudi-led coalition fighting anti- government Houthi rebels, but General Mattis said the US focus is on arranging a United Nations-brokered negotiating team to resolve Yemen’s civil war diplomatically.
“This is something, with the number of innocent people dying inside Yemen, that simply has to be brought to an end,” he said.
The US security alliance with Saudi Arabia, dating to 1944 and based largely on the Saudis’ oil riches, has made Washington the kingdom’s most important arms supplier.