Unprecedented Public Confrontation On Display In Beijing Between Top US, China Diplomats

President Trump may have been too quick to praise North Korea following Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's visit with Kim Jong Un over the weekend. Because in what will be remembered as a brutal snub, Chinese President Xi Jinping refused to meet with Pompeo during his visit to Beijing on Monday, while China's foreign minister said in no uncertain terms that the US shouldn't expect China's help with denuclearizing North Korea.

In what the New York Times and WSJ described as a "tempestuous", "public confrontation" where "the customary veneer of diplomatic niceties during public remarks" was stripped away, Pompeo and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi traded barbs in public during a press conference as the two men blamed one another for the near-confrontation between US and Chinese naval ships in the South China Sea last month, while China criticized the US for perceived incursions on Chinese territorial sovereignty and the US's willingness to sell arms to Taiwan (while providing support in other ways). Wang also blamed the US for "ceaselessly elevating" trade tensions in a way that "cast a shadow" over their relationship.

Beijing

While sitting across from Wang during the press conference, Pompeo said the US and China had a "fundamental disagreement" over the issues that China raised, adding that he regrets that the diplomatic and security dialogue between two counties was "something that you all chose not to undertake."

Pompeo’s retort came after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi accused the U.S. on Monday of escalating trade disputes, interfering on Taiwan and meddling in the country’s domestic affairs. “These actions have damaged our mutual trust, cast a shadow over China-U.S. relations, and are completely out of line with the interests of our two peoples,” Wang told his visiting American counterpart.

“The issues that you characterized, we have a fundamental disagreement,” Pompeo said. “We have great concerns about actions that China has taken and I look forward to having the opportunity to discuss each of those today because this is an incredibly important relationship.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, a senior State Department official said Wang’s remarks weren't surprising, and that North Korea was "a big part of the conversation" on Monday. With Kim Jong Un reportedly planning to meet with Xi and senior Russian officials in the near future, Pompeo asked Wang if the US could still expect China's cooperation in its ongoing detente with North Korea, and Wang's response was chillingly non-committal.

Asked if the US still expected China to cooperate in enforcing sanctions on North Korea, the official said: "Sanctions remain an important part of the overall campaign to bring North Korea to the negotiating table."

Later, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular news briefing that he didn’t think tensions between Washington and Beijing would affect cooperation on North Korea.

We doubt that: the tensions between the two superpowers was tangible from the start, because unlike a similar trip in June, Chinese President Xi Jinping granted no audience to the U.S. secretary of state. When asked earlier Monday whether Xi had declined a meeting because of disagreements between the two sides, Pompeo said, “I expect they’ll also raise the issues that they’re happy with.”

Rising tensions have fueled concern in Beijing and Washington that the president’s trade fight could, if left unchecked, foster a new Cold War between the two countries. In the speech at the Hudson Institute in Washington last week, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence accused China of “a whole-of-government approach” to sway American public opinion, including spies, tariffs, coercive measures and a propaganda campaign.

Pence also assailed China over its actions in the South China Sea, where the U.S. has deployed warships on tense missions to counter Chinese claims to territory around reclaimed rocks and reefs. Last month China refused a U.S. warship entry to Hong Kong next month, days after Washington sanctioned the Chinese military for buying Russian weapons.

Last Thursday, CNN reported that the U.S. Pacific Fleet is drafting plans for a global show of force to warn China and demonstrate resolve to deter Beijing’s military actions.

However, Wang’s remarks made clear that China was most concerned about recent U.S. moves to improve ties with the democratically run island of Taiwan, which Beijing considers a province. Wang called on the U.S. to cease military contacts and further arms sales to the island and stop interfering with Chinese efforts to establish diplomatic relations with Taiwan’s existing diplomatic partners, Bloomberg reported.

We've noted in the past that tensions between Washington and Pyongyang have faltered during periods when the US-China trade war had been escalating. And if the past is any guide, the second US-North Korea summit probably shouldn't be considered a sure thing - at least not yet, anyway.

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