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Trump claims Beijing is also opposed to ‘freeze for freeze’

Nov 17,2017
U.S. President Donald Trump said that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping recognized North Korea’s nuclear threat and agreed not to accept the so-called “freeze for freeze” agreement in a speech Wednesday recounting his Asia tour.

Trump, who had promised a “major” announcement upon his return from a 12-day Asia tour to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines, focused in his speech on his trade accomplishments and North Korea’s nuclear and missile program.

In his speech at the White House, Trump summarized the three core goals of his trip: to unite the world against the nuclear menace posed by the North Korean regime; to strengthen the United States’ alliances and economic partnerships in a free and open Indo-Pacific region; and a new insistence on fair and reciprocal trade.

There was particular interest worldwide in whether Trump reached some sort of breakthrough on the North Korea nuclear issue with China enabling dialogue with Pyongyang.

China and Russia have jointly called for a “double freeze” or “double suspension” initiative in which the North declares a moratorium on its nuclear and missile tests in exchange for South Korea and the United States halting joint military exercises. Beijing has also pushed for peace talks with the North to proceed simultaneously with denuclearization negotiations.

Washington has rejected such a dual freeze proposal, however.

“President Xi recognizes that a nuclear North Korea is a grave threat to China,” said Trump in his speech at the White House, “and we agreed that we would not accept a so-called ‘freeze for freeze’ agreement like those that have consistently failed in the past. We made [it clear] that time is running out and all options remain on the table.

“We have ended the failed strategy of strategic patience, and, as a result, we have already seen important progress,” said Trump, including “tough new sanctions” from the UN Security Council.

The president recollected his address to South Korea’s National Assembly last week, and said, “I spoke the truth about the evil crimes of the North Korean regime, and I made clear that we will not allow this twisted dictatorship to hold the world hostage to nuclear blackmail.”

He called on every nation, including China and Russia, “to unite in isolating the North Korean regime,” cutting off all ties of trade and commerce until it stops its dangerous provocations, adding, “We have to denuclearize North Korea.”

Trump said, “President Xi pledged to faithfully implement United Nations Security Council resolutions on North Korea and to use his great economic influence over the regime to achieve our common goal of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.”

However, Geng Shuang, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in a briefing Thursday that the freeze for freeze strategy is the “most reasonable way” to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem. Responding to Trump’s speech, he added that such a dual suspension would be a “first step” in achieving conditions for peaceful dialogue. He then called for other countries to actively consider China’s proposal.

In Wednesday’s speech, Trump lauded Japan for implementing additional unilateral sanctions on 35 North Korean entities and individuals and South Korea for agreeing to “harmonize sanctions” and join the United States in “sanctioning additional rogue actors” whose funds have helped North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, which he said is “unacceptable.”

Trump also mentioned his “Indo-Pacific” vision six times in his speech, terminology that has concerned South Korea as it is seen by some as a U.S. strategy to contain China.

The president described in his speech that “a free and open Indo-Pacific” is “made up of thriving, independent nations, respectful of other countries and their own citizens, and safe from foreign domination and economic servitude.” Trump however did not announce a relisting of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, something that the White House has been considering and had been expected by observers. North Korea was removed from the list in 2008 under the George W. Bush administration after first being designated in 1988 after the bombing of a South Korean passenger flight the previous year.

Diplomatic sources have indicated that all the legal work has been completed for the U.S. State Department to relist North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, and the final decision rests with Trump. This could be another indication that Washington is leaving doors open to dialogue.

Joseph Yun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, reportedly told the Council on Foreign Relations on Oct. 30 that if North Korea halted nuclear and missile testing for about 60 days, that would be the signal the United States needs to resume direct dialogue with Pyongyang, according to the Washington Post.

North Korea has not conducted any provocations in some two months. Its last one was on Sept. 15, when it fired a ballistic missile over Japan.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]