BEIJING — President Trump spoke with President Xi Jinping of China on Monday to appeal for his help with what he called the “growing threat” posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, the White House said.
The United States and China have clashed recently over Washington’s arms sale to Taiwan, among other issues. Mr. Trump also spoke with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan about North Korea, and they highlighted “their unity with respect to increasing pressure on the regime to change its dangerous path,” the administration said.
The discussions are taking place at a delicate time in the Asian region and just several days before world leaders are set to converge in Germany for the Group of 20 summit meeting, which starts Friday. The North’s belligerent behavior continues to dominate diplomatic talks, and analysts have warned of the possibility of another nuclear test.
Mr. Trump had for months based his strategy on the hope that China, the North’s chief ally and trading partner, could persuade Pyongyang to abandon its weapons program.
But Mr. Trump acknowledged recently that those efforts had failed. As a result, he has sharply escalated pressure on Mr. Xi to do more to punish the North.
The Trump administration last week imposed sanctions on a Chinese bank, accusing it of acting as a conduit for illicit North Korean financial activity. And Washington has taken a series of additional steps recently seen as affronts to Beijing, including accusing the Chinese government of human rights violations and selling $1.4 billion in weapons to Taiwan, which China regards as its territory.
In the latest sign of tension, an American naval destroyer on Sunday sailed near disputed territory claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea, prompting a furious response from the Chinese government.
During the call on Monday, Mr. Xi said the relationship between the two countries had shown progress but was also affected by “negative factors,” according to Chinese news reports. He urged the United States to handle Taiwan in accordance with the “One China” policy. Under that policy, which has been in place since 1972, the United States recognized a single Chinese government in Beijing and severed its diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
In response, Mr. Trump reiterated his pledge to uphold the One China policy, the Chinese news media reported.
Cheng Xiaohe, an associate professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said that given the recent actions by Mr. Trump, it was “a little bit odd” that Mr. Xi had agreed to the phone call.
Still, he said, the gesture seemed to indicate that China was seeking to maintain “stability and some momentum” with Mr. Trump and perhaps deter him from resorting to more extreme measures, such as a military response.
“The actions the administration has taken have upset the Chinese, no doubt about it,” Professor Cheng said. “The conversations demonstrate that China is still willing to talk with Trump and work with the U.S. government to deal with North Korea’s nuclear issues.”
Increasingly, Mr. Trump is also looking to other Asian nations, including Japan and South Korea, for help in resolving the crisis.
Kyodo News, a Japanese news agency, reported that Mr. Abe had praised the Trump administration’s decision to impose sanctions on Chinese entities accused of conducting illicit business with the North. The agency said that Mr. Trump and Mr. Abe agreed to hold trilateral talks on North Korea with South Korea’s newly elected president, Moon Jae-in, on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting in Hamburg.
Mr. Trump met Mr. Moon at the White House on Friday. Mr. Moon has urged dialogue with the North — an idea that Mr. Trump’s advisers have shown little interest in.
Amid the tensions, North Korea has continued to stridently defend its weapons program. On Monday, the North reiterated that its missiles “can hit any target in a speedy and accurate manner,” according to Yonhap, a South Korean news agency.
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