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Trump casts blame on China for North Korea challenges

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing. Photo: Xinhua

US President Donald Trump issued a White House statement about North Korea on Wednesday evening via Twitter, casting blame on China for difficulties in the US-North Korea relationship.

"President Donald J. Trump feels strongly that North Korea is under tremendous pressure from China because of our major trade disputes with the Chinese government. At the same time, we also know that China is providing North Korea with considerable aid, including money, fuel, fertilizer and various other commodities. This is not helpful!" he said in a series of tweets.

Trump also addressed his relationship with China's President Xi Jinping in his own statement.

"As for the U.S.-China trade disputes, and other differences, they will be resolved in time by President Trump and China's great President Xi Jinping. Their relationship and bond remain very strong," the statement said.

The tweets come hours after Trump was noncommittal when asked by reporters about North Korea's denuclearization progress, again pivoting to blame China.

"I think we're doing well with North Korea. We'll have to see," he said in the Roosevelt Room, adding that "part of the North Korea problem is caused by our trade disputes with China."

Trump said he has a "great relationship" with China and Xi but that the country makes the US's relationship with North Korea "difficult."

"China is the route to North Korea. Ninety-three percent of the product and various things are going to North Korea go in through China, so I think that now that we are in somewhat -- I don't like to call it a trade war ... but China's having a very, very tough time. And I think that China makes it much more difficult in terms of our relationship with North Korea," Trump said.

Asked whether he thinks North Korea is holding up its end of the deal, Trump said: "We're going to have to see. But I think China probably has a great influence over North Korea. I have a fantastic relationship with Chairman Kim, as you probably know, and we're just going to have to see how it all ends up."

Trump's hot-and-cold tone reflects the erratic diplomatic efforts around these issues in the recent months.

A trip to North Korea by US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo was called off by Trump last week, just a day after it was announced.

As with the most recent tweets, Trump blamed China for his decision to cancel Pompeo's trip, saying that Beijing is holding back denuclearization with inaction and that his top diplomat would likely return to North Korea after US trade disputes with China were resolved.

Two days of talks between the US and China in Washington last week concluded with no concrete steps toward ending the bilateral trade war that started last month.

The lack of any progress lowers the chances that growing opposition to the trade war from many US business groups will prevent the rift from harming the entirety of the bilateral trade relationship.

Meanwhile, a lack of specific measures by Kim to mothball North Korea's nuclear weapons program has put more pressure on Trump to justify his decision to indefinitely suspended select military exercises on the Korean peninsula as a gesture of goodwill, after the two leaders held the summit in Singapore in June.

Experts say that North Korea wants the US to declare an official end to the 1950-53 Korean war and negotiate a lasting peace that could pave the way for better relations and ultimately reunification with South Korea before taking any further steps. North Korea has not conducted any nuclear or long-range missile tests since last year.

But US officials are not yet keen to make this concession, despite Trump's efforts to offer reassurance to Pyongyang of continuing good faith between the two sides.

"I suspect North Korea was waiting on a declaration [ending the war] before they made any more moves," Vipin Narang, a nuclear policy expert at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said. "If it's the case that Mr Trump actually promised Mr Kim that he would declare an end to the war during their meeting, that would be the first step towards a peace treaty between North Korea and the US, and by not following up, to them it's just another indicator that the US is not willing to live up to its commitments."

The US president also appeared to contradict his defence secretary Jim Mattis, declaring there was no reason to spend large amounts of money on war games with South Korea, only a day after Mattis said joint military exercises were continuing.

"There is no reason at this time to be spending large amounts of money on joint U.S.-South Korea war games. Besides, the President can instantly start the joint exercises again with South Korea, and Japan, if he so chooses. If he does, they will be far bigger than ever before," Trump tweeted.

Trump has previously derided military exercises as a waste of money, telling reporters during a news conference following his June summit with North Korean leader that he thought such exercises were "very provocative."

Mattis maintained earlier Wednesday that military exercises have been suspended but no decisions have been made on future exercises.

"The Department of Defense suspended three individual military exercises in order to provide space for our diplomats to negotiate the verifiable, irreversible and complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Our military posture has not changed since the conclusion of the Singapore summit and no decisions have been made about suspending any future exercises," Mattis said in a statement.

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