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Trump watching whether Xi toughens on North Korea as promised

WASHINGTON/BEIJING — U.S. President Donald Trump has claimed a major victory for securing a pledge from China to apply more pressure on North Korea, and now he will be watching closely to see if Beijing makes good on its promise.


Chinese President Xi Jinping promised to “use his great economic influence over the [North Korean] regime to achieve our common goal of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula,” Trump said Wednesday while reflecting on his recent tour of Asia.


One of Trump’s key goals was to cast a tighter net around North Korea. He and Xi confirmed their commitment to denuclearizing the North and to United Nations sanctions on the country at their summit on Nov. 9.


The U.S. and China made clear that “time is running out” and “all options remain on the table,” Trump also said Wednesday, suggesting the countries discussed the toughest measures they were willing to undertake. The U.S. may have proposed a military option, as well as for China to cut off its supply of crude oil to the North.


One option for the U.S. is designating North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism. Trump said while en route to Japan on Nov. 5 that he would be making a decision “soon.” He also discussed the topic with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe the following day. But despite speculation that Trump might make a move after returning home, he did not touch on the matter in his Wednesday statement.


By naming North Korea a sponsor of terrorism, the U.S. would officially be treating it as a rogue state. Such a move would inevitably trigger backlash from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and could push him to resume the nuclear and missile tests he has avoided the last two months.


Xi is sending Song Tao, head of the Chinese Communist Party’s international liaison department, as a special envoy to North Korea for about four days starting Friday. Song will be meeting with Ri Su Yong, believed to be a close aide to Kim.


The envoy will ostensibly report on last month’s party congress as part of a tradition between socialist regimes, but will likely discuss North Korea’s nuclear and missile development as well. He could also urge Pyongyang to refrain from military provocations and open a dialogue with the U.S.


Beijing’s suggestion for the North to halt its weapons program while the U.S. suspends military drills in the area is “the most pragmatic, feasible, sensible and reasonable proposal” under current circumstances, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters on Thursday.


Three U.S. nuclear carriers had been deployed to the Sea of Japan, conducting joint drills with Japan’s maritime forces since Saturday, a show of forced aimed at curbing nuclear or missile provocations by North Korea. But they appear to have since left the waters.


“China is sending an Envoy and Delegation to North Korea — a big move, we’ll see what happens!,” Trump tweeted Thursday.

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