China hit back Monday at a Twitter rant from President Trump over trade and the North Korea crisis, saying the two issues should not be linked and the U.S. is to blame for Pyongyang's military buildup.
"We think the North Korea nuclear issue and China-U.S. trade ... are in two completely different domains," Chinese Vice Commerce Minister Qian Keming said at a news conference in Beijing. "They aren't related. They should not be discussed together."
Qian added trade between China and the U.S. has been beneficial to both nations despite a U.S. trade deficit with China that reached almost $350 billion last year.
China's state-run news agency Xinhua published an editorial Monday saying China is "actively working with the U.S. side to explore ways to restore the trade balance." It blamed the North Korea nuclear issue on "the decades-long animosity" between Pyongyang and Washington.
"As a neighbor of the (North Korea), China knows well it has a lot to lose if the Korean Peninsula slides further away from denuclearization," the editorial said. "So it has been making strenuous efforts ... to maintain the fragile calm on the peninsula and work toward an early solution to the problem."
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Trump has repeatedly claimed that China could easily pressure North Korea into curtailing its missile and nuclear programs. He raised the issue again in tweets Saturday.
"I am very disappointed in China," Trump said to open a two-tweet lament. "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!"
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said last week that his nation's recent missiles tests prove he has the technology to hit the U.S. mainland. Some U.S. analysts concur that Los Angeles and Chicago appear to be technically within range of the North's missiles.
China continues to trade with North Korea but says it follows United Nations sanctions aimed at pressuring Pyongyang to back off its military buildup. It has rejected additional U.S. sanctions, saying the standoff must be resolved through dialogue.
Japan, however, sided with Trump. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Sunday he was disappointed in China's response to North Korea's latest tests and agreed with Trump that China must apply more pressure on North Korea.
Karl Dewey, an analyst for Jane’s by IHS Markit, said China has political reasons not to turn its back on the North.
"Ultimately it remains in Beijing’s interests to support North Korea economically," Dewey said. "A unified peninsula under Seoul’s leadership creates a major U.S. ally on China’s doorstep."