The United States is prepared to act unilaterally to tackle the North Korean nuclear threat if China fails to help, President Donald Trump warned in an interview with the Financial Times.
President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet for the first time on April 6 in Florida, where the two are expected to discuss North Korea, tensions in the South China Sea and disagreements over trade.
Mr Trump said he would discuss the growing threat of Pyongyang’s nuclear programme with Xi.
“China has great influence over North Korea. And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t,” Mr Trump was quoted as saying.
“If they do, that will be very good for China, and if they don’t, it won’t be good for anyone.”
The US would tackle North Korea even without China’s help, the President said.
“Well if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you,” Mr Trump said.
North Korea conducted two nuclear tests last year alone and is believed to be developing a missile capable of reaching the US.
“There is a real possibility that North Korea will be able to hit the US with a nuclear-armed missile by the end of the first Trump term,” KT McFarland, deputy White House national security adviser, told the FT in a separate interview.
China has been calling for the resumption of six-nation talks on North Korea’s de-nuclearisation.
Mr Trump said it was “totally” possible for the US to tackle North Korea without China. Asked if that meant dealing with Pyongyang one on one, he said: “I don’t have to say any more. Totally.”
Barring a pre-emptive strike on North Korea – which the Trump administration has previously refused to rule out – analysts believe the US needs China’s help to solve the Korean issue as Beijing has the most sway over Pyongyang.
Other options available to Washington include more effective sanctions, or even more controversial covert action.
“What President Trump is trying to do here is to press the Chinese hard by warning them what comes next if they don’t help or join with the US to deal with this problem,” said the FT quoted Dennis Wilder, a former CIA China analyst, as saying.
During a visit to South Korea last month, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson outlined a tougher strategy to confront North Korea’s nuclear threat.
When asked about the possibility of using military force to combat the threat from North Korea, Mr Tillerson told a news conference in South Korea’s capital Seoul: “All of the options are on the table”.
Mr Tillerson said the US did not want a military conflict, but if North Korea took actions that threatened South Korean forces or US forces, “that would be met with [an] appropriate response”.
“If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action, that option is on the table,” he said.