President Donald Trump expressed frustration with China on Wednesday for failing to do more to cut off support to North Korea and exert pressure to curb its nuclear pursuits.
North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile test this week demonstrated a dangerous new reach for weapons it hopes to top with nuclear warheads one day. The launch is spurring U.S. demands for global action to counter the threat.
Since he entered the White House, Trump has talked about confronting Pyongyang and pushing China to increase pressure on the North, but neither strategy has produced fast results. Trump had expressed optimism after his first meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping that the two would work together to curb North Korea’s nuclear program.
Moments before he departed for Poland, Trump chastised China on Twitter.
“Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40% in the first quarter,” the president tweeted. “So much for China working with us – but we had to give it a try!”
In his initial response to the launch on Monday evening, Trump urged China on Twitter to “put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!” But he also said it was “hard to believe” that South Korea and Japan, the two U.S. treaty allies most at risk from North Korea, would “put up with this much longer.”
North Korea conducts about 90 percent of its trade through China. In April, Chinese customs data said total two-way trade between China and North Korea increased 36.8 percent in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period a year earlier.
Raw data from the first quarter of this year, however, showed that total two-way trade between the sides increased by only a 7.4 percent in this first quarter. It was not immediately clear why the customs agency reported a higher growth rate.
China has long resisted intensifying economic pressure on neighboring North Korea, in part out of fear of the instability that could mount on its doorstep, and Trump has not found a way to break through Beijing’s old habits.
Trump spoke with Xi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday, discussing North Korea and its nuclear program with both leaders. He will meet them both this week at the Group of 20 meeting in Germany, as well as have his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
U.S. officials joined South Korea and Japan in requesting an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, scheduled Wednesday afternoon.
Previously, North Korea had demonstrated missiles of short and medium range.
In a show of force directly responding to North Korea’s provocation, U.S. and South Korean soldiers fired “deep strike” precision missiles into South Korean territorial waters on Tuesday, U.S. military officials in Seoul said. The missile firings demonstrated U.S.-South Korean solidarity, the U.S. Eighth Army said in a statement.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson vowed “stronger measures to hold the DPRK accountable,” using an acronym for the isolated nation’s formal name, and said: “Global action is required to stop a global threat.” Any country helping North Korea militarily or economically, taking in its guest workers or falling short on Security Council resolutions, he said, “is aiding and abetting a dangerous regime.”
Tillerson’s statement, issued Tuesday evening as most Americans were celebrating the Fourth of July holiday, notably did not mention China, whose help the Trump administration has been aggressively seeking to press Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons program.
In recent days, as the North has continued to test missiles in defiance of global pressure, President Donald Trump has started voicing doubt that Beijing is up to the task. His administration has taken a number of steps against China’s interests that have suggested its patience has run short.
Tillerson’s comments were the first public confirmation by the United States that the missile was indeed an ICBM, constituting a major technological advancement for the North and its most successful missile test yet.
The prime danger from the U.S. viewpoint is the prospect of North Korea pairing a nuclear warhead with an ICBM. The latest US intelligence assessment is that the North probably does not yet have that capability — putting a small-enough nuclear warhead atop an ICBM.
Initial U.S. military assessments had been that it was an intermediate-range missile. NORAD, or the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said the missile did not pose a threat to North America.
The launch was not wholly unexpected. Daniel Coats, director of national intelligence, testified to Congress in May that the U.S. anticipated an ICBM test before the end of this year.
The Pentagon has spent tens of billions of dollars developing a missile defense system tailored to the North Korean ambition of attaining the eventual capability to attack the U.S. with a nuclear-armed missile. On May 30 the Pentagon successfully shot down a mock warhead designed to replicate the North Korean threat.
Pentagon spokeswoman Dana W. White said the U.S.-South Korea missile exercise Tuesday was meant to show “our precision fire capability.”
“We remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies and to use the full range of capabilities at our disposal against the growing threat from North Korea,” she said in a statement. “The United States seeks only the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Our commitment to the defense of our allies, the Republic of Korea and Japan, in the face of these threats, remains ironclad.”
AP National Security Writer Robert Burns and Vivian Salama contributed to this report.
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