By The Wall Street Journal
President-elect Donald Trump chided North Korea and China in two Twitter posts, but Beijing on Tuesday shrugged off the criticism over its role in curbing Pyongyang’s weapons program.
In his first tweet, Mr. Trump remarked Monday on news over the weekend that North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un said his government was completing preparations for a test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, which could be the next stage in developing a nuclear weapon that could strike parts of the U.S.
“North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S.,” the first tweet said. “It won’t happen!”
Less than an hour later, Mr. Trump blamed Beijing for not cracking down on North Korea’s weapons development.
That tweet said: “China has been taking out massive amounts of money & wealth from the U.S. in totally one-sided trade, but won’t help with North Korea. Nice!”
Mr. Trump has frequently criticized China using his Twitter account, in contrast with Russia, whose leadership he has defended or praised.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington, said Mr. Trump’s tweets didn’t do much to clarify his past remarks on North Korea policy, which have at times been contradictory. But they did seem to signal where North Korea ranked on his foreign-policy agenda.
“For all the people on his national security team, Trump has just made this a number-one issue,” Mr. Kimball said, adding that Mr. Trump’s tweets revealed an acknowledgment that reining in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions “cannot simply be outsourced to China.”
Addressing questions about Mr. Trump’s tweets during a regular press briefing on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that China’s efforts to solve the North Korean nuclear issue “are clear for all to see.”
Mr. Geng pointed to China’s convening of six-nation talks aimed at convincing North Korea to give up its nuclear program, as well as its support for United Nations sanctions against its ally. He added that any problems in the economic relationship between the U.S. and China should be “properly addressed through dialogue and consultation,” but avoided commenting on whether Mr. Trump’s use of Twitter helped or hindered diplomatic discussions.
“We don’t pay attention to the features of foreign leaders’ behavior. We focus more on their policies,” he said.
Shi Yinhong, director of the Center for American Studies at Renmin University, said U.S. frustration with Beijing over North Korea is nothing new. “Trump’s comments regarding China’s perceived passivity on North Korea’s nuclear program are very much in line with the overwhelming consensus view in U.S. diplomatic circles,” said Mr. Shi.
Although Mr. Trump, as a presidential candidate, signaled a more conciliatory approach toward Mr. Kim, including the possibility of a face-to-face meeting, the president-elect will find it difficult to honor this promise without significant concessions from Pyongyang, Mr. Shi said.
Mr. Trump’s hostile tone may damp optimism in Pyongyang about dialogue with the new U.S. administration and it may “adjust its position accordingly,” said Wang Sheng, a professor at China’s Jilin University who studies China-North Korea relations.
The Obama administration condemned North Korea’s statement on weapons development.
“We call on all states to use every available channel and means of influence to make clear to the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] and its enablers that launches using ballistic-missile technology are unacceptable, and take steps to show there are consequences to the DPRK’s unlawful conduct,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said.
The North Korean military has frequently showcased a long-range missile known as the KN-08 but hasn’t yet test-launched the weapon, which experts estimate has a range that could reach the continental U.S.
In 2016, North Korea conducted two nuclear tests and test-launched dozens of rockets. Several U.S. presidents have tried to stop North Korea from developing and testing nuclear weapons. They have had little success, but Pyongyang’s defiance has left it economically and diplomatically isolated from much of the world, with the exception of China.