Trump Gets Tough with China as North Korean Crisis Escalates

President steps up economic pressure on Beijing with probe into trade and copyright practices

by Kathryn Blackhurst | Updated 14 Aug 2017 at 9:21 AM

President Donald Trump plans to launch a crackdown on China Monday by announcing an investigation into the country’s trade practices and allegations that China violated U.S. intellectual property rights, U.S. officials told multiple outlets Friday and Saturday.

On Friday, Trump called his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, to warn him that the U.S. will conduct an investigation into China’s trade practices with the U.S., a senior administration official told CNN. Trump plans to order U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to launch the probe Monday with the goal of identifying unfair trade practices that have placed the U.S. at a severe economic and financial disadvantage.

The probe, which will rely upon Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 and could result in steep tariffs, will begin as U.S. tensions with North Korea continue to escalate — and while Trump pressures the Chinese to exert their influence over North Korea and its nuclear missile program.

"The United States government can, and does, work with countries to address serious concerns such as North Korea while also pursuing measures to address economic concerns, such as the theft of U.S. intellectual property," a U.S. National Security Council official told CNN.

Trump has been walking a tenuous tightrope with China ever since he hosted Xi at Mar-a-Lago in April. All throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump railed against "disastrous" trade deals and specifically called out China for its unfair trade practices, which have left the U.S. at a disadvantage. Advocating for a level playing field that treats the U.S. fairly while energizing the U.S. economy, Trump sought to reset the relationship between the two countries while simultaneously attempting to convince China to exert more pressure on North Korea. As a result, the U.S. president's trade rhetoric softened considerably.

China, which is North Korea's foremost trading partner, provided the rogue nation with a crucial crutch as it escalated its nuclear missile program and took a more aggressive stance against the U.S. and other leading nations. Although the U.S. would like to remain on productive terms with China and see it wield its economic influence over North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong-un, Trump also wants to end China's unfair trade practices and implement his "America First" agenda.

"I am very disappointed in China. Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet ... they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk. We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!" Trump tweeted back in late July.

"Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet...they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk," Trump also tweeted in July. "We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!"

But in early August, China voted with the rest of the United Nations Security Council in a significant step forward to impose strict sanctions on North Korea, much to Trump's delight.

"The United Nations Security Council just voted 15-0 to sanction North Korea. China and Russia voted with us. Very big financial impact!" Trump tweeted August 5. "United Nations Resolution is the single largest economic sanctions package ever on North Korea. Over one billion dollars in cost to N.K."

As the North Korean threat looms, Trump will continue to balance his request that China exert its influence over Kim with holding China accountable for its unfair trade practices and copyright infringements. And as Trump told reporters on Thursday, "China can do a lot more," and China "will do a lot more."

China expert, author and columnist Gordon Chang said Wednesday on "The Laura Ingraham Show" that the U.S. needs "to start asking Beijing some pointed questions — and not only behind the scenes, but also in public because the American public needs to hear this," noting that the U.S. has "the leverage" necessary to persuade China to tame North Korea.

"We hold most of the high cards," Chang said, adding that Trump must tell the Chinese "that they have to stop their duplicitous game that they've been engaged in now for a couple decades, and actually start to help the United States."

(photo credit, homepage image: Lance Cheung; photo credit, article image: D. Myles Cullen)

  1. china
  2. China-US relations
  3. Donald Trump
  4. north korea
  5. trade
  6. Trade with China
  7. Xi Jinping
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