Donald Trump urged Chinese leader Xi Jinping to work “hard” and act fast to help resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis, during their meeting in Beijing on Thursday, warning that “time is quickly running out”.
Speaking on the second day of a trip to Beijing marked by pomp and pageantry, Trump also decried China's “one-sided and unfair” trade surplus with the United States but told Xi “I don't blame China”, as the two countries signed more than $250 billion in business deals.
Xi hosted Trump at the imposing Great Hall of the People, next to Tiananmen Square, for the main event of Trump's five-nation tour of Asia.
While the two leaders have recently stepped up the flattery, Trump made clear to Xi that he expected China to do more to rein in North Korea.
“We must act fast. And hopefully China will act faster and more effectively on this problem than anyone,” Trump said, while thanking Xi for his efforts to restrict trade with Pyongyang.
“China can fix this problem easily and quickly, and I am calling on China and your great president to hopefully work on it very hard,” the US leader said.
“I know one thing about your president: If he works on it hard, it will happen. There's no doubt about it.”
The US administration thinks China's economic leverage over North Korea is the key to strong-arming Pyongyang into halting its nuclear weapons and missile programmes.
Xi, who has repeatedly urged the United States and North Korea to hold negotiations to resolve the crisis peacefully, told Trump that they should “strengthen communication and coordination” on issues including the Korean Peninsula.
Trump, who is expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin at an APEC summit in Vietnam this weekend, also appealed for help from Moscow, which also has economic ties with North Korea.
“I'm also calling on Russia to help rein in this potentially very tragic situation,” he said. He earlier said he and Xi believed there was a solution to the nuclear standoff, without elaborating.
Washington has made no secret of its frustration at China's massive trade surplus with the United States, but at a signing ceremony for over $250 billion in US-Chinese business deals, Trump said he did not blame Beijing.
“After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the sake of its citizens?”
However, he pointed the blame at past US administrations “for allowing this out-of-control trade deficit to take place and to grow”.
The Trump administration has aggressively pursued trade remedies in commercial relations with Beijing — investigating Chinese trade practices on intellectual property and in aluminium and steel.
The trip comes as Trump faces the lowest approval ratings for a US president in seven decades, and with the one-year anniversary of his election Wednesday spoiled by big Democrat wins in state and mayoral votes.
Xi, by contrast, cemented his status as the most powerful Chinese leader in a generation at a Communist Party congress last month, when his name was inscribed into the constitution.
On Trump's first state visit to China, a military band played the US and Chinese anthems, ceremonial cannon fire erupted, and the two leaders reviewed a military honour guard just across from Tiananmen Square — the site of the army's deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 1989.
Children waved US and Chinese flags at the two leaders, a day after Xi treated Trump to a tour of the Forbidden City, capped by an opera performance and a private dinner.
“Emphasising pomp over substance is the Chinese way. With President Trump, they think that the state-visit plus treatment will impress him and buy China some goodwill,” Bonnie Glaser, China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told AFP.
Evidently pleased with the first day of his visit, Trump circumvented China's internet censorship system to post a message to Xi on Twitter, which is banned in the country.
“Thank you for the beautiful welcome China! Melania and I will never forget it!” he Trump.
Both leaders say they have struck up a friendship since Trump hosted Xi for a plush visit at the billionaire's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for their first meeting in April.
“My feeling toward you is an incredibly warm one. As we said there's great chemistry and I think we're going to do tremendous things for both China and the United States,” Trump told Xi.
Despite the public bonhomie, the two leaders were expected to have had tough discussions behind closed doors.
“The flattery will not have significant substantive effect,” said Sam Crane, a Chinese history expert at Williams College.
But the pageantry is helpful to Xi's consolidation of power at home, Crane said.
“Symbolically all of this is being framed in China as Trump coming to pay homage to the 'core' leader,” he said.
'Do not try us'
Before arriving in Beijing, Trump used a speech at the South Korean parliament to urge China and Russia to act on North Korea.
He later tweeted a warning to North Korea to avoid “a fatal miscalculation. Do not underestimate us. And do not try us.”
Though China has backed the UN sanctions, US officials want Chinese authorities to clamp down on unauthorised trade along the North Korean border.
But experts doubt China will take the kind of steps that Trump wants, such as halting crude oil exports to the North.
Beijing fears that squeezing Pyongyang too hard could cause the regime to collapse.