Trump warns ‘rogue regime’ North Korea of grave danger

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US President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping at the Forbidden City in Beijing yesterday. Reuters

BEIJING (Reuters) – US President Donald Trump arrived in China yesterday seeking help to rein in North Korea after warning the North’s leader that the nuclear weapons he is developing “are not making you safer, they are putting your regime in grave danger”.

Mr Trump used some of his toughest language yet against North Korea in a wide-ranging address in Seoul that lodged specific accusations of chilling human rights abuses. He called on countries around the world to isolate Pyongyang by denying it “any form of support, supply or acceptance”.

“Do not underestimate us and do not try us,” Mr Trump told North Korea as he wrapped up a visit to South Korea with a speech to the National Assembly before heading to Beijing, where he was making his first official visit.

Mr Trump painted a dystopian picture of the reclusive North, saying people were suffering in “gulags” and some bribed government officials to work as “slaves” overseas rather than live under the government at home. He offered no evidence to support the accusations.

Mr Trump’s return to harsh, uncompromising language came a day after he appeared to dial back the bellicose rhetoric that had fuelled fears across east Asia of the risk of military conflict. On Tuesday, Mr Trump had even offered a diplomatic opening to Pyongyang to “make a deal”.

He went mostly on the attack in yesterday’s speech but did promise a “path to a much better future” if North Korea stopped developing ballistic missiles and agreed to “complete, verifiable and total denuclearisation” – something Pyongyang has vowed never to do.

“We will not allow American cities to be threatened with destruction. We will not be intimidated,” he told South Korean lawmakers. “And we will not let the worst atrocities in history be repeated here, on this ground we fought and died to secure.”

The North defends its nuclear weapons and missile programmes as a necessary defence against what it says are US plans to invade. The US, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean war, denies such intention.

“The world cannot tolerate the menace of a rogue regime that threatens it with nuclear devastation,” Mr Trump said, speaking as three US aircraft carrier groups sailed to the Western Pacific for exercises – a rare show of such US naval force in the region.

In Beijing, Mr Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping resumed their “bromance” struck in April at Mr Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, making small talk as they toured the Forbidden City with their wives before taking in
a Chinese opera performance.

“That’s something!” Mr Trump said after the show, as he and Mr Xi walked away. “We’re having a great time.”

While the sprawling palace complex in the political and cultural heart of Beijing is a regular stop for visiting dignitaries, it is rare for a Chinese leader to act as a personal escort, confirmation of the “state visit-plus” treatment that China had promised for Mr Trump.

Mr Trump has threatened action over China’s wide trade surplus with the US and called on Beijing to do more to rein in ally and neighbour North Korea, but has expressed admiration for Mr Xi and held off on imposing trade measures.

During his two-day visit, Mr Trump will ask China to abide by UN resolutions and cut financial links with the North, a senior White House official said.

Mr Trump believes any talks with North Korea would require it to reduce threats, end provocations and move toward denuclearisation, and no deal can be achieved without denuclearisation, the official added.

Mr Trump and Mr Xi are scheduled to hold formal talks today.

Before leaving for Beijing, Mr Trump cited China as one of the countries that must fully enforce international sanctions against Pyongyang and downgrade diplomatic and commercial ties.

“To those nations that choose to ignore this threat or, worse still, to enable it, the weight of this crisis is on your conscience,” he said.

While Mr Trump will try to convince Mr Xi to squeeze North Korea further with steps such as limits on oil exports and financial transactions, it is not clear if Mr Xi, who has just consolidated his power at a Communist Party congress, will agree to do more.

China has repeatedly said its leverage over Pyongyang is exaggerated by the West and that it is already doing all it can to
enforce sanctions.

During his speech in Seoul, Mr Trump directed his words at North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

“The weapons that you are acquiring are not making you safer, they are putting your regime in grave danger,” he said. “Every step you take down this dark path increases the peril you face.”

However Mr Trump, whose strategy has stressed sanctions and military pressure instead of diplomacy, did not spell out any new approach.

“North Korea is a country ruled by a cult,” Mr Trump said in a speech that was interrupted several times by applause and ended with a standing ovation.

The speech came after Mr Trump’s attempt to make an unannounced visit to the heavily fortified DMZ was aborted when dense fog prevented his helicopter from landing, officials said.

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