- Donald Trump said Wednesday that China backed him on North Korea.
- But the next day China contradicted him entirely.
- Even South Korea has expressed doubts about Trump’s goal in dealing with North Korea.
After a 12-day trip to Asia where President Donald Trump stressed his friendship and mutual understanding with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Beijing appears to have crossed Trump on a key issue — North Korea.
At every turn during his trip, Trump insisted that the US’s goal was North Korea’s denuclearization. He stressed the “grave threat” the rogue nuclear nation posed to millions in the region around the world.
But now, China seems to have rejected the idea of denuclearization, and instead wants the US to settle for a freeze in North Korea’s nuclear program in exchange for a freeze in the US’s military drills with South Korea.
On Wednesday, Trump said that he and Xi “agreed that we would not accept a so-called freeze-for-freeze agreement like those that have consistently failed in the past.”
On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that a dual suspension, the Chinese’s preferred term for the “freeze-for-freeze” deal, the “most feasible, fair and sensible plan in the present situation.”
The difference of opinion has gone on for years, with China repeatedly suggesting the dual freeze and the US routinely rejecting it.
Back in March, when China made the same suggestion, Mark Toner, then-acting spokesman for the State Department, explained the US’s objection.
Toner said comparing the US’s transparent, planned, defensive, and 40-year-old military drills with North Korea’s illegal pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles is a case of “apples to oranges.”
The return to the old stalemate between China and the US undercuts the progress that Trump hailed after returning from his Asia trip.
But even beyond the stalemate, South Korea, the US’s staunch ally, also expressed doubts about the practicality of denuclearization.
“If talks begin to resolve the North Korea nuclear issue, I feel it will be realistically difficult for North Korea to completely destroy its nuclear capabilities when their nuclear and missile arsenal are at a developed stage,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in a briefing.
“If so, North Korea’s nuclear program should be suspended, and negotiations could go on to pursue complete denuclearization,” Moon said.
Both China and South Korea appear more willing to meet North Korea in the middle, as Pyongyang swears it will never “never put the issue related to the supreme interests of the DPRK [nuclear weapons] and security of its people on the bargaining table.”
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