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Trump Attacks China's Growing Trade with North Korea

  • Ken Bredemeier

FILE - Attendees at the 20th Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair in Pyongyang, May 22, 2017.

President Donald Trump assailed China on Wednesday for boosting its trade with North Korea, the latest of several broadsides Washington has leveled at Beijing in recent days.

Trump offered his criticism just before heading to Poland and later to Germany for a G-20 summit of leaders of the world's leading economies that includes a meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping. In a Twitter comment, Trump said, "Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40% in the first quarter. So much for China working with us - but we had to give it a try!"

Trump, confronted by North Korea's nuclear weapons development program and its apparently successful intercontinental ballistics missile test on Tuesday, had sought earlier to enlist Xi in curbing North Korea's military ambitions. But the U.S. leader recently said that while he "greatly" appreciates Beijing's efforts, "it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!"

China, North Korea's chief economic benefactor, said in April that its first quarter trade with Pyongyang grew by 37.4 percent. China buys iron ore, zinc and other minerals from North Korea, as well as seafood and clothing, giving the reclusive communist nation much-needed currency.

Trump held out hope for better relations with China after he met with Xi in April at the U.S. president's oceanfront estate in Florida. But in the last few days, Washington has taken several actions that have peeved Beijing.

The U.S. State Department, in its annual report on human trafficking and forced labor, downgraded China to the worst ranking alongside long-time U.S. adversaries Iran, Syria, North Korea and Russia.

In addition, the U.S. blacklisted a small Chinese bank it accused of laundering cash to the North Korean regime, while agreeing to a new $1.42 billion arms deal with Taiwan, the self-governed island China claims as part of its territory even as the U.S. continues to arm it. Before taking office, Trump angered Beijing by taking a congratulatory call on his election victory from Taiwan's leader, the first high-level U.S. contact with Taipei in decades, even though Washington later confirmed its long-standing "one-China policy."

FILE - The guided-missile destroyer USS Stetham is seen during an exercise in the waters near the Korean Peninsula in this Oct. 13, 2016 photo supplied by the U.S. Navy.
FILE - The guided-missile destroyer USS Stetham is seen during an exercise in the waters near the Korean Peninsula in this Oct. 13, 2016 photo supplied by the U.S. Navy.

On Sunday, the U.S. Defense Department dispatched the USS Stetham, an American guided-missile destroyer, to within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island, a small landmass in the Paracel Islands chain claimed and controlled by China. Beijing described the ship's path as a "serious political and military provocation."

Trump's complaint about China's growing trade with North Korea came as part of what he views as a broader problem of bad U.S. trade deals, although he did not single out any particular one. He has withdrawn the U.S. from the planned 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership and has frequently criticized the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.

"The United States made some of the worst Trade Deals in world history," Trump said Wednesday. "Why should we continue these deals with countries that do not help us?"

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