An angry China slammed President Trump's threat on Monday to cut off trade with countries that deal with North Korea, as "unacceptable" and "unfair." As a reminder, following Sunday's nuclear test by North Korea, Trump threatened to increase economic sanctions and halt trade with any country doing business with North Korea, a threat he has used before without following through. That list would include China, the U.S.’s biggest trading partner, which accounted for about a sixth of its overseas commerce.
The United States is considering, in addition to other options, stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 3, 2017
The comments were seen as a not-so-veiled warning to China, Kim's closest ally and commercial partner, and led to a prompt response by China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang who classified Trump's comments as "definitely unacceptable."
“What is definitely unacceptable to us is a situation in which on the one hand we work to resolve this issue peacefully but on the other hand our own interests are subject to sanctions and jeopardized,” Geng said at a regular briefing in Beijing, according to the Associated Press.
Of course, a full-blown trade war would have adverse consequences for both nations: China would be drastically affected if the US were to cut trade ties with it, as the United States imports goods worth about $40 billion a month. Of course, such a move would have devastating, and inflationary, consequences on the US as supply chains are forced to find alternatives to China.
When asked on Monday whether Beijing would support tougher UN sanctions including cutting off oil supplies to North Korea, Geng said that whatever happened would depend on discussions among UN Security Council members. He added that China – a permanent member of the UN's Security Council with the power to veto UN actions – would take part in a “responsible and reconstructive way.”
Geng also addressed Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's recent remark that Beijing “has by far the greatest leverage” as Pyongyang’s main trading partner and needs to “step up now and bring this regime to its senses.”
“We keep stressing that we cannot solely rely on China to resolve this issue,” Geng said. “We need all parties to work in the same direction.”
China has previously noted that it is not solely responsible for ending the crisis on the Korean Peninsula. In July, Geng said that “certain people” had been “exaggerating and giving prominence to the so-called ‘China responsibility theory’,” in an apparent reference to Trump's repeated calls for Beijing to put pressure on Pyongyang. China has repeatedly called for all sides to avoid further provocations in the crisis, warning last week that tensions on the peninsula were at “tipping point” and “approaching a crisis.”
As discussed previously, Beijing and Moscow have proposed a 'double-freeze' plan which would see North Korea suspend its missile launches in exchange for a halt in joint US-South Korea military drills. That plan was promptly rejected by Washington, with State Department spokesperson Heather Neuert stating last month that the US is “allowed” to conduct exercises with its ally and “that's just not going to change.”
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On Sunday afternoon, Julian Assange also reacted to Trump's threat to end trade with China, with the WikiLeaks founder tweeting that the US president would be “deposed immediately” if he followed through with the proposed idea.
90% of North Korea's trade is with China. If Trump blocks $650B of US trade with China he'll be deposed immediately. https://t.co/gSrVc10uos— Julian Assange ???? (@JulianAssange) September 3, 2017
US trade with China totaled $648 billion back in 2016, according to data from the USTR. This makes China the “largest goods trading partner” of the US, and the 3rd largest US goods export market.
In the meantime, China’s Global Times newspaper warned against cutting off the North’s oil supply.
“If China completely cuts off the supply of oil to North Korea or even closes the China-North Korea border, it is uncertain whether we can deter Pyongyang from conducting further nuclear tests and missile launches. However, confrontation between the two is likely to occur,” it said.
The newspaper warned that a potential conflict between Beijing and Pyongyang would “transcend any conflict between the US and North Korea, and take center stage on the Korean Peninsula.