A week ago today, Fox News aired its latest interview with Donald Trump, who assured viewers, in response to an unrelated question, "China has been a big help on North Korea." Literally the next day, the president published a tweet complaining that Chinese officials are not "helping with the process of denuclearization as they once were."
Last night, Trump went a bit further, writing a strange Twitter thread in third person. It read:
STATEMENT FROM THE WHITE HOUSEPresident Donald J. Trump feels strongly that North Korea is under tremendous pressure from China because of our major trade disputes with the Chinese Government. At the same time, we also know that China is providing North Korea with considerable aid, including money, fuel, fertilizer and various other commodities. This is not helpful!Nonetheless, the President believes that his relationship with Kim Jong Un is a very good and warm one, and there is no reason at this time to be spending large amounts of money on joint U.S.-South Korea war games. Besides, the President can instantly start the joint exercises again with South Korea, and Japan, if he so chooses. If he does, they will be far bigger than ever before.As for the U.S.–China trade disputes, and other differences, they will be resolved in time by President Trump and China's great President Xi Jinping. Their relationship and bond remain very strong.
Despite the headline in the tweet, this was not an official "statement from the White House," and was not distributed as such. Why he wrote it this way is unclear.
Regardless, the tweets followed Trump's comments at a White House event yesterday in which he connected "the North Korean problem" with "our trade disputes with China."
The president added, "I think that China makes it much more difficult in terms of our relationship with North Korea. Now I knew that, but I couldn't wait any longer.... When you're losing four to five hundred billion dollars a year, and it's going to China, and coming away from our country and our taxpayers, I can't let that go on.'
None of this makes sense.
First, the most recent U.S. trade deficit with China was roughly $337 billion, not $500 billion. Second, Trump is obsessed with this figure, despite not fully understanding what trade deficits are, using the data as the basis for a trade war that the president hasn't thought through. (The president seems convinced that trade deficits represent "lost" money. They don't.)
Third, Trump may find it convenient to blame China for his stalled talks with North Korea, but if his gambit unravels, as now appears likely, the American president will find it difficult to shift the responsibility for his failures to others.
But even putting all of this aside, if Trump believes Beijing is retaliating for his trade war by derailing U.S. talks with North Korea, why in the world did he declare last week that China "has been a big help on North Korea"?