Author Gordon Chang said Tuesday that the reported threat by North Korea to call off next month’s summit with President Donald Trump was most likely a “negotiating tactic” to give China leverage over the White House in tariff discussions occurring this week in Washington.
“The North Koreans do things like this on a regular basis,” Chang, a leading expert on Asia, told Jake Tapper on CNN. “So, this could be just negotiating tactics.”
He noted that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, who will meet with Trump on June 12 in Singapore, and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a second meeting last week.
“You have the Chinese trade negotiators in Washington right now,” Chang said.
Chinese trade officials are expected in Washington this week to continue talks to stave off $150 billion in tariffs that have been threatened by President Trump.
Beijing has pledged to retaliate against any U.S. trade action.
Given the context, Chang explained the reported North Korean threat this way: “I think that Xi Jinping is saying to President Trump: ‘Look, every solution to North Korea runs through Beijing.
“‘You’ve got to give me concessions or trade or something else — and then I’ll help you on North Korea,'” he said.
“What Kim Jong Un has just done is he’s helped Xi Jinping in the bargaining position.
“We know that the North Koreans and the Chinese talk all of the time,” Chang added. “So, we have to assume there is a high degree of coordination.”
The South Korean Yonhap news agency reported Tuesday that Pyongyang had canceled high-level talks due Wednesday with Seoul over the Max Thunder joint military exercises between the U.S. and the South.
“The U.S. will “have to undertake careful deliberations about the fate of the planned North Korea-U.S. summit in light of this provocative military ruckus,” Yonhap quoted North Korea’s official news agency, KCNA, as saying.
The drills between the allies’ air forces were a rehearsal for invasion and a provocation at a time when inter-Korean relations were warming, KCNA said.
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said planning remained underway for the June 12 summit in Singapore between President Trump and Kim and the military exercises would continue.
“We have not heard anything from that government or the government of South Korea to indicate we would not continue conducting these exercises or would not continue planning for our meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un next month,” Nauert told reporters.
However, Chang told Tapper that the U.S. retained leverage in this matter, particularly because of the crippling sanctions that remain in place against North Korea.
“There are two things that give us leverage: One is the threat of war — and observers in Asia have been saying consistently that the government of China and South Korea and North Korea were unnerved by President Trump’s threats, and that is why they’ve changed the policy.
“That won’t change, because President Trump could threaten that at any time.
“The U.S. and U.N. sanctions are crippling the flow of cash to Kim and this is important,” Chang added. “We could ramp up the sanctions on North Korea and their backers, Russia and China.
“We could do that at any particular time, so I’m not worried about losing leverage.”
Reuters contributed to this report.