In Asia, Trump talks tough on North Korea
President Trump dialed up the pressure on North Korea during his first official visit to Asia this week, urging China to cut financial ties with the repressive regime over its nuclear weapons program, and warning dictator Kim Jong Un that he was prepared to use military force. Addressing South Korea’s National Assembly, Trump denounced Kim as a “tyrant” who tortures and starves his people, and cautioned Pyongyang not to threaten the U.S. or its allies. “Do not try us,” he said. “We will defend our common spirit, our shared prosperity, and our sacred liberty.” The hard-line speech came a day after the president reversed his previous insistence that negotiating with Kim Jong Un was a waste of time, saying in Seoul that he hoped the North Korean leader would “make a deal” on his nuclear program and that he had seen “movement” on the issue.
Before flying on to Beijing, Trump thanked Chinese President Xi Jinping for being “very helpful” on North Korea, but said he could still do more. The 12-day, five-nation trip began in Japan, where Trump bemoaned the U.S.’s “massive” trade deficit with the country but spoke warmly of his close relationship with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. After his three-day stay in China, Trump was scheduled to fly to Vietnam for a regional summit—where he planned to discuss North Korea with Russian President Vladimir Putin—and then to the Philippines.
What the columnists said
Trump’s newfound rhetorical restraint suggests “China might be close to getting North Korea to the negotiating table,” said Tom Rogan in the Washington Examiner. The president has stopped needling Kim with petty insults—goodbye, “Rocket Man”—perhaps because he knows Xi will soon announce a diplomatic breakthrough. If so, Trump deserves significant credit. He’s made it clear that his military threats are serious; three U.S. aircraft-carrier strike forces were on exercise in the Western Pacific this week, and he’s pushed Japan and South Korea to boost their militaries. Beijing now understands that if it doesn’t bring its client state to heel, “its interests will suffer.”
China isn’t coming out of this empty-handed, said Jane Perlez and Mark Landler in The New York Times. It wants to be recognized as a coequal superpower, one sharing the burden of global leadership with Washington. Because Trump is desperate to resolve the North Korea standoff, he may be willing to form a “special relationship” with Beijing that would do exactly that. No other U.S. president has dared link arms with China in this way. But in Trump, who has lavished praise on Xi, Beijing may have a “willing partner.”
The president’s “America First” foreign policy apparently means human rights come last, said Michael Fuchs in ForeignPolicy.com. He seems happy to overlook Xi’s crackdown on free expression in China and the brutal antidrug war waged by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, which has seen up to 13,000 suspected users and dealers murdered by police and vigilantes. By embracing these “strongman types,” Trump is undermining the notion that “the U.S. still stands for openness, democracy, and good governance.”