If Trump wants China to ‘solve the North Korea problem,’ he has to cater to Beijing’s interests

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE LOS ANGLES TIMES)

Op-Ed 

If Trump wants China to ‘solve the North Korea problem,’ he has to cater to Beijing’s interests

Doug Bandow

Even when President Trump has a good idea, he doesn’t stick with it long enough. Like pushing China on North Korea.

Of North Korea, said candidate Trump: “We should put pressure on China to solve the problem.” As president, he initially placed the issue front and center in the U.S.-China relationship.

But a couple months later, Trump appears to have lost hope in Beijing. “While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried,” he tweeted recently.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman responded that his nation had “played an important and constructive role” in promoting peace on the Korean peninsula. Exactly how the People’s Republic of China helped is not clear, however. It cut back on coal purchases, but other commerce with North Korea continues. The Trump administration asked the Xi government to act against ten firms and individuals who trade with the North, but is still waiting for action.

Most proponents of “the China card” imagine Beijing cutting off trade, especially energy and food. Having just returned from Pyongyang — the North Korean government invited me but the Cato Institute paid my expenses — I found both energy and food to be in seeming good supply. Despite reports that gasoline prices have increased, there was no visual evidence of a shortage.

An undefined diplomatic duty won’t prompt China to act. The Trump administration must therefore convince Xi’s government that punishing North Korea benefits China. Which means Washington must take into account Beijing’s interests.

First, Chinese officials have long blamed the U.S. for adopting a threatening policy, which spurred the North to build nuclear weapons. Thus, Washington should work with South Korea and Japan to develop a package of benefits — economic assistance, security assurances, peace treaty, diplomatic recognition, and more — to offer in return for denuclearization, and present it to Beijing, then to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Second, China fears a messy collapse if the DPRK refuses to disarm. Nightmares of millions of refugees crossing the Yalu River, factional conflict in Pyongyang, combat among competing military units spilling across the border, and loose nukes have created a strong Chinese preference for the status quo. The U.S. needs to emphasize that the present situation is also dangerous and discuss how the allies are prepared to assist with any ill consequences. A commitment to help care for refugees and accept Chinese intervention in the North, for instance, might help assuage Beijing’s concerns.

Third, Beijing does not want to facilitate Korean reunification, creating a larger and stronger state allied with the U.S. and leaving American troops on the Yalu, or even farther down the peninsula. Among the issues worth discussing: respect for Chinese economic interests in North Korea, withdrawal of U.S. forces after reunification, and military nonalignment of a unified Korea.

Fourth, the U.S. could offer additional positive incentives. Trade, Taiwan, and territorial issues all provide areas where Washington could offer specific concessions in return for Beijing’s assistance. That obviously would increase the price of any agreement, but the U.S. has to decide how far it will go to promote denuclearization.

Of course, such an approach leaves much to be desired. Even if Kim Jong Un’s government accepted benefits in exchange for disarmament, human rights abuses could still continue. Or Pyongyang might refuse and survive, leaving an even more dangerous and impoverished nuclear nation. In the event of government collapse, China might resurrect the DPRK, only with more pliable rulers.

However, there are no better options. Military strikes might not destroy the North’s main nuclear assets and probably would trigger a second Korean War, which would result in horrific death and destruction even for the “victors.” Targeting Chinese firms would damage relations with Beijing without necessarily significantly weakening Pyongyang. People look longingly to Beijing only because enlisting China’s help appears to be the best of several bad options.

If there ever were a time for the U.S. to negotiate for Chinese cooperation, it is now. Trump and Xi appear to have established a positive relationship. The tragic death of Otto Warmbier after his release by Pyongyang adds urgency to efforts to address North Korea. Moreover, in Pyongyang I saw no visible signs of the warm friendship that officially exists between North Korea and China. In fact, North Korean officials said they wanted to reduce their dependence on “any one nation.”

Winning Chinese assistance remains a long shot, but Trump should put his self-proclaimed negotiating skills to work. There is no alternative, other than essentially accepting North Korea as a nuclear state, which the president presumably does not want as his foreign policy legacy.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former special assistant to President Reagan. He is the author of “Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World” and coauthor of “The Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations with North and South Korea.”

China’s Strongman Has a Weak Point: North Korea

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

President Xi Jinping of China, center, in June. Mr. Xi has been reluctant to take on North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. CreditPool photo by Dale De La Rey

BEIJING — Xi Jinping, China’s leader, is known as the Chairman of Everything. He makes decisions daily on the economy, the military, foreign policy, human rights and more.

Yet on North Korea he is stuck. A strongman who usually acts with precision and boldness, Mr. Xi has been reluctant to take on the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, ostensibly a Chinese ally, whom he privately disparages to Western leaders as young and reckless.

The July 4 test of the North’s first intercontinental ballistic missile has raised the question of what is China’s red line for its ally, and whether the test will force Mr. Xi to act decisively against North Korea as the Trump administration is asking him to do.

The answer? He will probably do little, if anything.

As much as Mr. Xi disapproves of North Korea’s nuclear program, he fears even more the end of Mr. Kim’s regime, a unified Korea with American troops on his border and a flood of refugees from the North into China. And despite North Korea’s missile advancement on Tuesday, Mr. Xi still has some breathing room, Chinese military and strategic experts said.

Chinese military experts are assessing the launch more conservatively than their American counterparts, saying they were not convinced the missile was actually an intercontinental ballistic missile.

“This test may or may not be an ICBM,” said Wu Riqiang, associate professor of international affairs at Renmin University. He said the missile was “probably unable to hit Alaska.”

In contrast, American experts said the North Koreans had crossed a threshold, if only just, with a missile that appeared able to reach Alaska. While the missile traveled only about 580 miles, it did so by reaching 1,700 miles into space and re-entering the atmosphere, North Korean, South Korean and Japanese officials said.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry suggested on Wednesday that the North’s missile had the potential to reach Hawaii, about 4,780 miles from Kusong, the North Korean town from where the missile was fired, and farther than Alaska.

Photo

A photograph released by the Korean Central News Agency showing Mr. Kim after the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday. CreditK.C.N.A., via Reuters

On Wednesday, the top American general in South Korea, Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, said that self-restraint was all that kept the United States and South Korea from going to war with the North.

Mr. Wu said the North’s long-range missile capabilities were less threatening to China than to the United States. China would be more concerned if the North had tested a short- or medium-range ballistic missile, he said.

China has always considered itself to be less threatened by North Korean nuclear capabilities than the United States, but it does fear American countermeasures, like its recent deployment of an antimissile system on South Korean soil to deal with the threat from the North. South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, recently suspended deployment of that system, and there was no sign after the North’s missile launch that he was changing that position.

China may be increasingly frustrated by the North’s behavior, but it has never been the target of Mr. Kim’s weapons. The United States is the North’s declared enemy and the ultimate target of its nuclear arsenal.

More worrisome to China than the missile advances was the prospect of North Korea’s sixth test of a nuclear bomb, Mr. Wu and other experts said. China’s northeast, a depressed area of smaller cities and rusted industries, runs along the border with North Korea, not far from the tests. The nuclear testing site at Punggye-ri in North Korea is so close to the Chinese border that residents in the city of Yanji have complained that their windows rattled during the last several tests.

When the North tested a nuclear weapon in September 2016, local residents said they were afraid of large-scale leaks of radioactive material. Some said they were concerned that the North may actually use the bomb against China. There have been fears in the last few years of soil contamination in the northeast from the North’s nuclear testing.

“For China, a sixth nuclear test represents a graver threat than an ICBM test,” said Feng Zhang, a fellow in political science at the Australian National University. “North Korea’s ICBMs threaten the U.S. more than China, but North Korea’s nuclear weaponsand the testing of them near the Chinese border are a strategic and environmental threat to China.”

Mr. Wu said, “The missile launch just isn’t as pressing for China as a nuclear test might be.”

But no matter the North’s behavior, it would be very difficult for Mr. Xi to declare a red line with Pyongyang, either officially or unofficially, said Cheng Xiaohe, associate professor of international relations at Renmin University.

“The ICBM is not a Chinese red line — even the U.S. does not draw that line clearly and unequivocally,” Mr. Cheng said. If China did draw such a red line, he said, “China or the U.S. must automatically take retaliatory actions,” such as Beijing cutting off oil supplies to North Korea.

Photo

Chinese residents near the Friendship Bridge on the Yalu River, which connects China and North Korea.CreditNicolas Asfouri/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

But China cannot afford to squeeze the North so hard — by cutting off fuel, for example, or basic trade — that the country destabilizes, sending refugees pouring over the border.

Mr. Xi is at least publicly expressing disapproval of North Korea’s latest actions. He was in Russia visiting President Vladimir V. Putin when the North announced it had successfully tested an ICBM. The two leaders issued a joint statement calling for negotiations that would aim to freeze the North’s arsenal in exchange for limitations on the American military posture in South Korea.

Instead of penalizing North Korea, China has been calling for such negotiations for many months, but the Trump administration has declined.

Beyond cracking down on trade between the two nations, Mr. Xi holds very few cards against North Korea, and he has little choice but to rely on a kind of strategic hesitation, said a Chinese analyst of foreign affairs who sometimes advises the government.

“Xi as a strategist is facing an anguished choice to use up his means on Kim Jong-un while having no confidence at all that it would be effective,” said the analyst, Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University. “What can this strategist do? A sort of hesitation is unavoidable.”

Mr. Xi is facing an increasingly “determined and decisive” Mr. Kim, and he is also confronted by an American president who is not easy to deal with, Mr. Shi said. “Xi and Trump are unable to see eye to eye for long, and even if they were it would extremely difficult to thwart Kim for long,” he said.

In Washington, Mr. Trump repeated his impatience with Mr. Xi. In a post on Twitter on Wednesday, the president said China’s trade with North Korea had grown by almost 40 percent in the first quarter. “So much for China working with us — but we had to give it a try,” he said.

It was not clear where Mr. Trump got his 40 percent figure. A South Korean trade group said on Monday that China had imported much more iron in the last few months than previously. But the group also said that the North was a long way from making up the lost revenues from China shutting down its North Korean coal imports.

China’s trade with the North grew 37.4 percent during the first three months of the year, compared with the same period in 2016, Chinese trade data released in April showed. China said the trade grew even as it stopped buying North Korean coal.

How The World Sees Trump, 100 Days In—(And It Isn’t Pretty)

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

How the world sees Trump, 100 days in

Updated 4:53 PM ET, Sat April 29, 2017

(CNN) The world was dumbfounded by the election of Donald Trump, and his first 100 days in office have done little to alleviate a deep sense of uncertainty and unpredictability. Indeed, as one observer put it, the last few weeks alone have caused a severe case of global geostrategic whiplash.

The number of campaign promises that have morphed into presidential U-turns is staggering. Allies and adversaries alike are trying to figure out whether a Trump Doctrine is emerging, or whether, as former CIA Director Michael Hayden recently told me, a discernible doctrine does not exist in what resembles a family-run business of policy from the White House.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster “has hired a very bright woman to write the US National Security Strategy,” he said. “It’s a tough job. I did it twice for George H.W. Bush. But I was building on precedent and historic consensus. It’s really going to be interesting to see what an America First national security strategy looks like when you’ve got to write it down.”
Long-time American allies are comforted, though, knowing McMaster and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis make up an experienced national security team. NATO partners also welcomed Trump’s declaration that he no longer considers the transatlantic military alliance obsolete.
They, along with regional allies, supported Trump enforcing the previously declared US red line in Syria against the regime’s use of chemical weapons on its own people. After such an attack that the West attributed to the Syrian government earlier in the month, Trump launched retaliatory strikes.
But Asian allies, such as South Korea and Japan, are worried about US policy on North Korea. They welcome the tougher stance against Kim Jong Un’s ramped up nuclear missile program, but they were rattled by the USS Carl Vinson debacle, when for a time it was unclear if the aircraft carrier was steaming towards North Korea or not. It raised the question of whether the administration really has its deterrence policy in order, and South Korea was said to feel utter confusion, even betrayal, when the carrier was actually found to be steaming away from, not towards, the Korean Peninsula.
On Iran, signals are slightly harder to read. On the one hand, the State Department again certified Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. Yet a day later, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson strongly hinted the US could walk away from it, or try to link it to other issues it has with Iran. So far the deal remains in place and neither the EU nor the UN would agree to reimpose international sanctions on Tehran, which helped bring the country to the negotiating table.
On the Paris Climate Accord, Trump’s closest advisers seem to be having an almighty tussle about whether he should stay or stray from the historic deal. Big US companies like ExxonMobil are urging the US to abide by the deal and thereby have more say at the table.
Trump has also hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago estate, and seems to have reversed many of his pledges to play hardball with Beijing. But on trade, just recently a Financial Times newspaper headline blared: “Trump Fires First Protectionist Warning over steel Industry,” saying this paves the way for a global showdown on steel and possible sweeping tariffs on steel imports.
In his first 100 days, President Barack Obama visited nine countries. President George W. Bush visited two. Trump has visited none. But next month he visits Brussels for a NATO summit, and Sicily, for a meeting of the G7. Whether he can convince America’s allies that they have a trust-worthy friend with a strategic worldview as their most powerful ally remains to be seen, abroad and at home.
“I think I know what the policy is,” Hayden told me. “I have more difficulty, Christiane, putting this policy into a broader global view. And I think that’s causing unease with you, with me, and with a whole bunch of other folks who are trying to see, ‘Where are the Americans going globally?'”

Afghanistan

Nick Paton Walsh
It was the mother of all statements, but he may have had nothing to do with it.
The MOAB (officially know as the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast) wiped out an ISIS tunnel complex in the volatile eastern part of the country last week, killing around 90 militants.

Why did the US use the MOAB?

Why did the US use the MOAB?
It was the largest non-nuclear bomb used by the US in combat, but whether the new commander in chief personally approved its use is unclear.
The airstrike was immediately followed up by National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster visiting Kabul and assuring President Ashraf Ghani his country had a friend in the US and a strategic review was under way.
Yet outside of the huge bomb and its message of might, little has changed — as the new White House is inheriting the exhaustion of both resolve and policy options of the last.
A massive troop surge? Talks with the Taliban? A lighter footprint training Afghan security forces to secure the country? All have been tried, and all have failed to stop the insurgency controlling or contesting over half Afghanistan, and the heavy-handed rise of ISIS. Add to that the intense and escalating in-fighting in the Kabul political elite, and there is a very messy summer ahead, with few decent options.

China

David McKenzie
It’s arguably the world’s most important bilateral relationship.
But when President Donald Trump was inaugurated back in January, several Chinese policy experts told me there was a lot of nervousness about the incoming leader.

China's delicate balance with North Korea

China’s delicate balance with North Korea
After all, during the campaign Trump said he would name China a currency manipulator on Day One of his term and threatened a trade war.
As President-elect, he spoke to Taiwan’s president on the phone and openly questioned the ‘One China’ policy, a cornerstone of Washington-Beijing relations in which the US recognizes Taiwan as part of China. And Trump accused China of not doing enough to put pressure on North Korea.
100 days on? Well, it’s a 180-degree shift.
In his first phone call with President Xi Jinping, Trump reaffirmed the One China policy. He has praised Beijing for taking some positive steps on the North Korea issue and he recently said that China is not manipulating its currency.
Trump denies these positions represent a flip-flop; the businessman-turned-president is saying it’s all part of a deal.
“I actually told him (Xi Jinping), I said, ‘You’ll make a much better deal on trade if you get rid of this menace or do something about the menace of North Korea.’ Because that’s what it is, it’s a menace right now,” Trump said last week.
Trump said he has developed a strong relationship with Xi Jinping and that their scheduled 15-minute meetings at the Mar-a-Lago summit stretched into “hours.”
But Yan Xuetong, a foreign policy expert at Tsinghua University, told me that the Chinese are skeptical. He said that if North Korea goes ahead with its nuclear program, then China will take the blame.
“Trump will use China as scapegoat to tell (the) American public that it is not his problem,” said Yan.
In Yan’s eyes, at least, the Chinese suspect more Trump policy turns.

Egypt

Ian Lee
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was the first foreign leader to congratulate President Donald Trump after he won the November 2016 presidential election. The two leaders had instantly hit it off when they met a few months earlier in New York.
Their views are more aligned than were those of President Barack Obama, which reacted coolly to the 2013 coup by Egypt’s military — led at the time by Sisi. When he became president soon afterward, he ushered in a new low between Washington and Cairo.

ISIS claims responsibility for church blasts

ISIS claims responsibility for church blasts
It was an open secret that Cairo wished for a Trump victory over Obama’s former secretary of state, Hilary Clinton. Trump was perceived by Cairo as a pragmatist who had little interest in human rights.
In his first days in office, Trump invited Sisi to visit him in Washington. The Egyptian president arrived with three main objectives: deepen military cooperation, strengthen the war against terror and revive Egypt’s economy. The invitation to the White House also gave the Egyptian president a legitimacy that the Obama administration had previously denied him.
Recently, in a gesture of good will and eagerness to cooperate, American Aya Hijazi was released from an Egyptian prison after Trump directly intervened to secure her release.
Expect relations to remain warm as long as Trump’s administration keeps the lid on any criticism of Sisi.

Germany

Nic Robertson
German Chancellor Angela Merkel took heat from Donald Trump even before he was sworn in as president.
He accused her of making a “catastrophic mistake” on migrants, only being as trustworthy as Vladimir Putin, and intentionally trying to take business from the US.

Pence reassures NATO allies in Munich speech

Pence reassures NATO allies in Munich speech
For Europeans, Trump’s attitude to Merkel is symptomatic of wider issues: his like of Brexit and his dislike of the EU’s single market and liberal trade values.
At the EU leaders summit in Malta this February, both French and German leaders said openly that Trump’s attitude was uniting Europe to stand on its own feet.
Since then, Trump has said the EU is “wonderful” and he is “totally in favor of it.” Yet he still supports Brexit and seems unaware of the instability and frustrations Europe feels because of it.
It’s not the only cross-Atlantic reversal he has had. Coming into office, he said NATO was “obsolete.” He told the alliance nations they need to pay their way, and has given them a deadline to promise they will.
In recent weeks Trump has changed his tune. NATO, he said, is “not obsolete” — but he still wants members’ money.
Merkel’s March visit to see Trump at the White House did little to quell European concerns over his attitude to Europe, and trade in particular.
That Merkel was ignored by Trump when asking for a handshake in the Oval Office, and embarrassed by him again at the news conference that followed with an awkward comment about being spied on, reveals this relationship has some way to go before it gets on an even keel.
Iran
Frederik Pleitgen
Iran’s leadership realized that Donald Trump was an unknown commodity, but many in the country’s senior leadership hoped they would be able to deal with the new man in the White House.
“We hope that he will have a pragmatic approach,” Iran’s Deputy Oil Minister, Amir Hossein Azamaninia, told me in an interview during the transition period shortly before Trump took office. He suggested that perhaps President Donald Trump would similar to the businessman Donald Trump — a shrewd dealmaker, whom the Islamic Republic with its oil wealth could possibly even strike deals with.

Iranians worried about US-Iran relationship

Iranians worried about US-Iran relationship
But Iran soon learned that the new administration was going to take a harder line towards Tehran than President Barack Obama had. When Iran tested ballistic missiles in late January — which the US believes could strike targets in Israel — then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn came down hard and fast on Tehran, announcing there would be new sanctions. He also said the US was “putting Iran on notice,” without specifying what that meant.
This harsh reaction and subsequent statements by Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and America’s UN Ambassador Nikki Haley have sowed further uncertainty in Tehran about America’s strategy on Iran. The tough talk and action have put a severe damper on any notion the Rouhani administration had that its fairly constructive relations with Washington during the Obama years would continue.
At the same time, the Trump team’s hard line seems to be having an effect on Iran’s behavior.
There have so far been fewer reports of incidents and close encounters between US and Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf’s narrow Strait of Hormuz than during the end of the Obama administration. And during Iran’s National Revolution Day in February, the leadership did not display ballistic missiles as it usually has.
This has led some experts to believe that Tehran — for all its harsh rhetoric — is making an effort to not further antagonize an American president and Cabinet whom the Iranians view as erratic and very hostile towards the Islamic Republic.
If this was the Trump administrations intent, it could be working.

Iraq

Ben Wedeman
“I would bomb the s**t out of them,” declared candidate Donald Trump, summarizing his strategy to defeat ISIS. “I would bomb those suckers … and I’d take the oil.” The crowds loved it.
A decisive victory over ISIS, plus a grand prize of a lot of cheap oil, sounds great, but the real world just doesn’t work that way and slowly, perhaps, the new administration has learned this in its first 100 days.

Trump's son-in-law visits Iraq

Trump’s son-in-law visits Iraq
For one thing, the battle to liberate the ISIS stronghold of Mosul, Iraq — now into its seventh month — has underscored just how hard it is to defeat the extremists. Since the push in the western part of the city began in February, both the US-led coalition and Iraqi forces have been bombarding ISIS as promised, using much heavier firepower than during the battle for west Mosul in the waning months of the Obama administration.
But the tactic has come at a high cost in terms of civilian casualties, brought home by what US officials concede was probably a US-led airstrike on March 17 that mistakenly killed almost 150 civilians. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are still in western Mosul, often exploited by ISIS as human shields.
But even with the heavy assault, the Trump administration is largely settling down and following the same slow, deliberate approach of the Obama administration.
The battle for Mosul has taken more than half a year and may take many more months. In neighboring Syria, there are nearly a thousand US boots on the ground, backing a mixed Kurdish-Arab force that aims at overrunning the city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS. When this will happen is anyone’s guess.
And then there’s that other topic Trump has toyed with: taking Iraq’s oil. That was decisively shot down by Defense Secretary James Mattis, who flew to Baghdad in February and told reporters, “We’re not in Iraq to seize anyone’s oil.”

Israel

Oren Liebermann
Donald Trump’s fiery pro-Israel rhetoric during the campaign had the right and far right in Israel salivating at the prospects of a Trump administration, while Palestinians worried about an American government adopting a more hostile stance.
Trump pledged to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, “dismantle” the Iran deal, reduce funding to the United Nations and cut aid to the Palestinians. At the same time, Trump said he wanted to close “the ultimate deal” — a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.

Trump ties to Israeli settlements

Trump ties to Israeli settlements
Save for the last, Trump has moderated his stance and backed off his positions in his first 100 days in office. The Trump administration has said its still considering an embassy move, but has also called Israeli settlements in the West Bank unhelpful for peace and acknowledged that Iran is sticking by the terms of the nuclear deal. Some analysts in Israel have pointed out that Trump’s positions on the region are beginning to resemble Obama’s positions.
The Israeli right wing’s fervor over Trump has cooled somewhat, but it still expects him to be a friend in the White House. From Israel’s perspective, the big star of the Trump administration so far is US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who has repeatedly criticized the United Nations for focusing disproportionately on Israel. And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly praised Trump, refusing to suggest even the slightest hint of criticism, since he entered office.
Meanwhile, a recent visit by Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, left Palestinians cautiously optimistic that prospects weren’t as grim as initially feared and that Trump was serious about attempting to restart negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to meet Trump in Washington shortly after Trump hits the 100-day mark. The meeting could be a litmus test of how the dynamic between Trump, Netanyahu and Abbas develops.

Mexico

Leyla Santiago
President Trump still has yet to meet face-to-face with Mexico’s president, Enrique Pena Nieto, after an awkward encounter during the 2016 campaign. According to Mexican government officials, no plans are in the works, signaling tensions remain between the two leaders.

Mixed messages as top U.S. diplomat visits Mexico

Mixed messages as top U.S. diplomat visits Mexico
Twitter exchanges, however, have cooled down since a public war of words in January between @EPN and @realDonaldTrump over payment for a wall along the US-Mexico border. Mexico still maintains it will not pay for Trump’s muro (wall).
Many Mexicans still fear Trump could cut off a portion of their income, if he imposes taxes on remittances as a form of payment for the wall.
The Mexican government says, though, that its No. 1 concern is human rights violations. It has invested $50 million to expand legal services at its consulates and embassies in the US in an effort to help Mexicans fearing deportation.
Major questions also loom over the fate of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Trump has called the 23-year-old deal that allows free trade between Mexico, Canada and the US a one-sided agreement.
If a good deal is not renegotiated, Mexico plans to walk away from the pact. The uncertainty in trade relations has led Mexico to strengthen ties with other countries and explore opportunities in Asian, European and South American markets instead of the US.
After Mexico featured repeatedly in the US elections, Trump himself is now playing a role in who will become Mexico’s next leader. Anti-Trump rhetoric has become a central part of Mexican campaigns heading toward the 2018 election. Leading candidates are hoping a stance against Trump will protect Mexico’s interests and win over voters.

North Korea

Will Ripley
When I ask ordinary North Koreans about the impact of President Donald Trump on their lives, they give strikingly similar answers. The response is usually something like this: “It doesn’t matter who the US president is. All that matters is that they discontinue America’s hostile policy against my country.”

North Koreans celebrate 'Army day'

North Koreans celebrate ‘Army day’
Of course, they are only repeating the same message given to them by their state-controlled media, the only media North Koreans have access to. Because US politics are not a primary focus of North Korean propaganda, the vast majority of citizens are blissfully unaware of Trump’s twitter account or the cloud of controversy that has swirled around the first 100 days of his administration.
But they are aware of a few key facts. They know that Trump ordered a missile strike on a Syrian regime air base, viewed by many as an indirect threat to Pyongyang. They also know that Trump dispatched the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group to the waters off the Korean Peninsula, albeit by an indirect route.
The reason North Koreans know these things is simple: The actions of the Trump administration play right into their government’s long-standing narrative that they are under the imminent threat of attack by the ‘imperialist’ United States.
People have been told for their entire lives that America could drop a nuclear bomb at anytime. Citizens always voice their unanimous support of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un. Of course, in an authoritarian country where political dissent is not tolerated, there are no opposing voices.
The North Korean government uses this ‘imminent threat’ to justify its substantial investment in weapons of mass destruction, even if this means citizens must sacrifice. And government officials in Pyongyang told me the policies of the Trump administration in its first 100 days only add to their sense of urgency to accelerate development of a viable intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the mainland US.
They say such a weapon is key to their survival as a nation, even as critics fear North Korea continuing down the nuclear road will only lead to further diplomatic isolation, economic hardship or worse.
There are signs that North Korea is monitoring and responding to the unpredictable rhetoric and actions of the Trump administration. After news broke that the USS Carl Vinson strike group was headed to the Korean Peninsula, I was hand-delivered a statement in Pyongyang saying, “The DPRK is ready to react to any mode of war desired by the US.”
We’ve never seen dynamics like this before. An untested US President who tweets in real time and isn’t afraid to launch missiles to prove a point. And a North Korean leader who has consolidated his power by purging opponents (including his own uncle) and has launched more missiles than his father and grandfather combined.
This could be a recipe for disaster. Or a recipe for lasting peace. Or perhaps a recipe for the continuation of a decades-long stalemate. If Trump’s first 100 days provide any clues, it’s going to be a wild ride regardless.

Russia

Matthew Chance
President Donald Trump entered the White House on a promise of improving the strained relationship between Washington and Moscow.
He was full of praise for his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, suggesting he might recognize annexed Crimea as Russian, cooperate over international terrorism and join forces in Syria.

Lavrov to US: Respect Syrian sovereignty

Lavrov to US: Respect Syrian sovereignty
It was all music to the Kremlin’s ears and talk was of a pivotal moment, of the Trump administration transforming the way in which the United States and Russia saw each other.
But 100 days on, none of that has come to pass.
“One could say the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved,” said Putin on April 12, “but rather has deteriorated.”
US officials have criticized Russia for fueling conflict in Ukraine, castigated the Kremlin for its treatment of sexual minorities, even bombed Russia’s Syrian ally while implying Moscow might have been complicit in dozens of agonizing deaths there caused by chemical weapons.
Part of the reason is undoubtedly the toxic political atmosphere in Washington, where lingering allegations of Russian interference in the US presidential election are being investigated by Congress.
But there is also a growing sense that the Trump administration, at 100 days old, has finally encountered a stark reality: Russia and the United States simply have different geopolitical priorities — whether in Syria, Ukraine or elsewhere — that won’t be easily reconciled.

Syria

Clarissa Ward
When President Donald Trump first assumed office, his strategy on Syria, like much of his foreign policy, was opaque. On the campaign trail he had said that his priority was to eliminate ISIS — indeed, he promised to put together a plan to do so in his first 30 days. He attempted to place a ban on any Syrian refugees entering the US, calling them a security threat. But on the subject of Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad, and the brutal civil war he has presided over that has claimed more than 400,000 lives, he was noticeably silent.

Syria, a war on children?

Syria, a war on children?
Trump’s strong admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and interesting in getting the relationship with Russia back on track led many to assume that he would do little to interfere in Syria, where Moscow is closely allied with Damascus. This was reinforced by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comment in March that it would be “up to the Syrian people” whether or not Assad would go, a demand long made by the Obama administration. Regime change, it seemed, was no longer desirable for the US.
Yet, within a few weeks, everything changed.
After seeing the aftermath of a chemical weapons attack in Idlib that killed dozens of children, Trump suddenly took action against the Assad regime. Two days later, dozens of American tomahawk missiles rained down on the regime’s Shayrat air base.
The Syrian people were stunned. Those who oppose Assad had dreamed of this moment for many years, but after President Barack Obama had chosen not to enforce his red line against Assad’s use of chemical weapons in 2013, their dream had died. Suddenly, Trump was hailed as something of a hero. Some took to calling him by a new nom de guerre, Abu Ivanka al Amriki.
The strikes on Shayrat changed very little on the ground in Syria. The regime was continuing its daily bombardment within hours.
Still, after six years of standing on the sidelines, the shift in US policy (if it is a sustained shift) has given some cause for optimism. There is hope that perhaps Assad will think twice before using chemical weapons against his own people, that the US may now have more leverage at the negotiating table.
Yet the question still remains: What is the US’s policy on Syria? 100 days into the Trump presidency, we still don’t really know.

Turkey

Ian Lee
Relations with the Obama administration warmed under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when that suited him and then soured accordingly. They have yet to be really tested under President Donald Trump.
Since taking office, Trump has taken a softer tone in dealing with Turkey. Ankara responded positively to the United States’ missile strike on a Syrian air base. Trump congratulated the Turkish president for the success of his referendum, giving him significantly expanded powers, despite the process being deeply flawed according to international monitors, an opinion echoed by the State Department.

Turkish demonstrators protest vote result

Turkish demonstrators protest vote result
By the time President Barack Obama left office, US-Turkish relations had cooled. The two leaders had differing opinions regarding Syria. Where Obama wanted to focus on defeating ISIS while Erdogan wanted to oust President Bashar al-Assad. The United States saw Syrian Kurdish militants, the YPG, as an ally against ISIS, while the Turks viewed them as terrorists. And Obama criticized Turkey’s crackdown on the political opposition, intellectuals, activists and journalists and wouldn’t extradite spiritual leader Fetullah Gulen, on whom the Turkish blames July’s coup attempt. Elements of Erdogan’s party even accused the United States of supporting the failed effort.
There is optimism in Turkey among the government and its supporters that a new page can be turned, especially when both leaders plan to meet in Washington in May.
But Trump is likely to face similar tensions as Obama did. One of the toughest will be the upcoming operation against ISIS in Raqqa, Syria. Turkey wants to take part but won’t fight along side the YPG. Trump will likely have to choose between a NATO ally and a proven fighting force.

The UK

Phil Black
President Donald Trump helped create what is so far the most iconic image of Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May — the American president holding May’s hand as they walked outside the White House in January.
May later said Trump was “being a gentleman.”

Scotland calls for independence referendum

Scotland calls for independence referendum
She provided the opportunity for his gallantry by swiftly moving to be the first world leader to visit the new president.
May has unashamedly pursued a close bond with Trump, believing “the special relationship” between the UK and US is especially important as Britain prepares for a future outside the European Union.
May has pushed for a quick post-Brexit trade deal while also trying to persuade Trump to align with Britain’s traditional positions on key foreign policy issues like NATO (crucial) and Russia (deserves suspicion).
The British Prime Minister also threw in a sweetener. She invited Trump to visit the UK with full state honors. That usually means time with the Queen, banquets, parades and gilded carriages.
Such invitations are rarely offered to new presidents and it’s proved to be hugely controversial in a country where many disagree with Trump’s policies, including his attempts to block immigration from select, majority-Muslim countries.
More than 1.8 million people signed a petition opposing a state visit “because it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen.” Thousands protested on the streets and have promised to do so again when Trump arrives. That could create some awkward moments.
May’s efforts to stay close to Trump will likely be judged by whether she secures a free trade agreement with the United States. But they can’t even begin talking about that officially until after Brexit has taken place, so that’s at least two years away.

North Korea Fires Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile: Blows Up 22 Miles Into Flight

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(CNN) North Korea on Saturday launched a ballistic missile that blew up over land, a spokesman for the US Pacific Command said.

The missile didn’t leave North Korean territory, US Navy Cmdr. Dave Benham said.
A US military assessment found the main part of the missile landed approximately 35 kilometers (22 miles) from Pukchang airfield, a US official told CNN.
“North Korea disrespected the wishes of China & its highly respected President when it launched, though unsuccessfully, a missile today. Bad!,” US President Donald Trump tweeted.
South Korean officials said the test likely was a failure.
“We are analyzing additional information,” the nation’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said. “Our military is maintaining a thorough defense posture while keeping a close eye on the possibility of North Korea’s further provocations.”
White House officials said Trump was briefed as Air Force One returned to Maryland from Atlanta, where Trump earlier addressed a meeting of the National Rifle Association.
The test-fired missile probably was a medium-range ballistic missile called a KN-17, the US official said. The KN-17 is a land-based solid-fuel missile fired from a mobile launcher.
There has been no announcement on North Korean state television, CNN’s Will Ripley in Pyongyang reported.

Analyst: Planned provocation from North Korea

John Kirby, a CNN military and diplomatic analyst, said the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had a message for the United States and others.
“This is Kim giving us the finger. Giving China the finger. Giving the UN the finger. I think timing is absolutely planned and preordained in his mind,” he said.
Trump’s administration has delivered a drumbeat of warnings about the dangers of North Korea this week, using presidential statements, an unusual White House briefing for the Senate, and a White House lunch for UN ambassadors to underscore that Pyongyang is a priority.
The US military has moved an aircraft carrier strike group into the region, docked a powerful nuclear submarine in South Korea and staged large military drills with South Korea and Japan.
When asked whether the missile test was provocative, US deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland said North Korea has been “provocative all along.” But “there is reason to be concerned” about North Korea’s missile tests, she added.
On Thursday, the President told Reuters: “There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea.” But Trump said he would prefer a diplomatic resolution.
Washington is hopeful the Chinese can help there.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Fox News on Thursday that China has threatened North Korea with sanctions if the regime conducts a nuclear test. North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test last fall, and observers have said a sixth test could be near.
China remains one of North Korea’s only allies and is responsible for much of the heavily-sanctioned nation’s economy.

Launch follows special UN meeting

It is North Korea’s ninth attempted missile launch — by CNN’s count — since Trump became President in January. Some of those missiles reached the the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea, but Saturday’s test apparently did not.
Kirby said there is no such thing as a failed missile attempt for North Korea’s Kim.
“He learns from every single attempt, and he gets knowledge, and he gets intel. And he takes those lessons learned and just churns them right over into the next one,” Kirby said.
The launch came hours after Tillerson addressed a special meeting at the United Nations, calling for increased pressure on North Korea.
“All options for responding to future provocations must remain on the table,” Tillerson said. “Diplomatic and financial leverage or power will be backed up by willingness to counteract North Korean aggression with military action, if necessary.”
Uruguay UN Ambassador Elbio Rosselli condemned the apparent missile test.
The ambassador, who sits on the UN Security Council, said, “That’s very disgraceful.”
He said that it was “against international law and humanity.”
Italy’s ambassador, Sebastiano Cardi, said the UN meeting was “very, very positive.”
“We hope that Pyongyang will refrain from any other further escalation because it is not what we hope for,” said Cardi, who heads the UN committee that could sanction North Korea.

China Issues Stern Warning To the U.S. And North Korea

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

April 14 
China issued a stern warning Friday to both the United States and North Korea, urging them not to push their recriminations to a point of no return and allow war to break out on the Korean Peninsula.In comments carried by China’s official Xinhua news agency, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said “storm clouds” were gathering, an apparent reference to North Korean preparations to conduct a new nuclear test and the United States’ deployment of a naval strike force to the waters off the peninsula. In addition, the U.S. military has been conducting large-scale military exercises with South Korean forces, drills that the North considers provocative.

“The United States and South Korea and North Korea are engaging in tit for tat, with swords drawn and bows bent,” Wang said at a news conference after a meeting with visiting French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, Xinhua reported. “We urge all parties to refrain from inflammatory or threatening statements or deeds to prevent irreversible damage to the situation on the Korean Peninsula.”

If they allow war to break out on the peninsula, they must bear the historical responsibility and “pay the corresponding price,” Wang warned. In the event of war, “multiple parties will lose, and no one will win,” he said. “It is not the one who espouses hasher rhetoric or raises a bigger fist that will win.”

Wang also indicated that China is willing to broker a resumption of “dialogue,” whether it be “official or unofficial, through one channel or dual channels, bilateral or multilateral.”

Trump says good trade with China hinges on help with North Korea

 

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President Trump spoke highly of Chinese President Xi during a press conference at the White House on April 12, but avoided commenting directly on the decision not to label China a currency manipulator. “We’re going to see,” he said when asked if a deal was struck. (White House)

Earlier Friday, North Korea accused President Trump of “making trouble” with his “aggressive” tweets, amid concerns that tensions between the two countries could escalate into military action.

And the North Korean army threatened to annihilate U.S. military bases in South Korea and the presidential palace in Seoul in response to what it called Trump’s “maniacal military provocations.”

Tensions have been steadily mounting in recent weeks, as North Korea prepares for what it is calling a “big” event to mark the anniversary of the founder’s birthday Saturday, while the Trump administration warns that all options are on the table.

Expectations for a nuclear test or missile launch in the lead-up to Saturday’s celebrations in Pyongyang have not come to pass. Instead, there are signs that the regime is getting ready to hold a huge parade this weekend, perhaps showing off new missiles — something that would qualify as the “big” event it had heralded.

The United States has sent an aircraft carrier strike group to the Korean Peninsula region, and Trump has repeatedly tweeted that if China will not use its leverage to rein in North Korea, the United States will act.

Vice President Pence arrives in Seoul on Sunday on the first leg of an Asia tour, and he will doubtless underscore Washington’s strong alliances with South Korea and Japan and their determination to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

But North Korea’s vice foreign minister said Trump was “becoming more vicious and more aggressive” than previous presidents, which was only making matters worse.

“Trump is always making provocations with his aggressive words,” Han Song Ryol told the Associated Press in an interview in Pyongyang. “So that’s why. It’s not the DPRK but the U.S. and Trump that makes trouble,” he said, using the abbreviation for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as North Korea is officially known.

Han also repeated the regime’s common refrain that North Korea is ready to act to defend itself.

“We’ve got a powerful nuclear deterrent already in our hands, and we certainly will not keep our arms crossed in the face of a U.S. preemptive strike,” Han told the AP.

As for when the next nuclear test would take place, “that is something that our headquarters decides,” he said.

His message chimed with a statement Friday from North Korea’s Institute for Disarmament and Peace that it was the United States pushing the Korean Peninsula, “the world’s biggest hotspot,” to the brink of war by bringing back a naval strike group.

“This has created a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out any moment on the peninsula and pose a serious threat to the world’s peace and security,” the statement said.

North Korea has a habit of fueling tensions to increase the rewards it might extract from the outside world if it desists. Previously, North Korea has agreed to return to denuclearization talks in return for aid or the easing of sanctions.

Trump is tearing up that old playbook, analysts said.

“This approach to North Korea is relatively new,” said James Kim of the Asan Institute of Policy Studies in Seoul. “The approach in the past has been very calculated.”

That has gone out the window with talk about military options, he said. “We always knew all these options were there, but no one was bold enough to go down that path. It’s a new approach.”

Some in Beijing are noting the difference, too.

“It should be noted that there is a personality difference between Trump and Obama,” the Global Times newspaper wrote Friday. The paper does not speak for the Chinese government on policy but often reflects a strain of thinking within the Communist Party.

“Trump is also willing to show he is different. Bombing Syria helps him to show that,” it continued, while noting that he was far from “revolutionary” because he dispatched only missiles, not troops.

But North Korea could prove different if it calls Trump’s bluff and conducts another nuclear test, the paper said. “Trump just took the office; if he loses to Pyongyang, he would feel like he had lost some prestige.”

Right now, Trump has some cards to play, said Kim of the Asan Institute.

“He might say: ‘If you want one less battleship in the region, what are you going to give me?’” he said, in a reversal from the usual situation in which North Korea asks what it can get from its adversaries in return for changing its behavior.

Amid these tensions, reports of impending military action have been swirling.

NBC News, citing intelligence officials, reported Thursday that the United States was ready to launch a preemptive strike if North Korea appeared to be about to conduct a nuclear test.

But a defense official said this was “speculative,” and analysts said they highly doubted that Washington would take such action, describing a situation in which tougher sanctions and more rigorous implementation remained the best remedy.

Trump’s tweets and his conversations with Chinese President Xi Jinping seem designed to push Beijing to crack down on North Korea, and there have been some indications that China is getting tougher on its errant neighbor.

China banned coal imports from North Korea in mid-February — potentially cutting off an economic lifeline — and Chinese customs data released Thursday showed a 52 percent drop in imports in the first three months of this year, compared with the same period last year.

Meanwhile, the Japanese government is taking precautions of its own.

China says North Korea tension has to be stopped from reaching ‘irreversible’ stage

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

China says North Korea tension has to be stopped from reaching ‘irreversible’ stage

By Dominique Patton and Sue-Lin Wong | BEIJING/PYONGYANG

China said on Friday tension over North Korea had to be stopped from reaching an “irreversible and unmanageable stage” as a U.S. aircraft carrier group steamed towards the region amid fears the North may conduct a sixth nuclear weapons test.

Concerns have grown since the U.S. Navy fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airfield last week in response to a deadly gas attack, raising questions about U.S. President Donald Trump’s plans for North Korea, which has conducted missile and nuclear tests in defiance of U.N. and unilateral sanctions.

The United States has warned that a policy of “strategic patience” is over. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence travels to South Korea on Sunday on a long-planned 10-day trip to Asia.

China, North Korea’s sole major ally and neighbor which nevertheless opposes its weapons program, has called for talks leading to a peaceful resolution and the decentralization of the Korean peninsula.

“We call on all parties to refrain from provoking and threatening each other, whether in words or actions, and not let the situation get to an irreversible and unmanageable stage,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in Beijing.

“Force cannot solve the problem, dialogue can be the only channel to resolve the problem.”

North Korea for its part denounced the United States for bringing “huge nuclear strategic assets” to the region.

A spokesman for the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s Institute for Disarmament and Peace issued a statement condemning the United States for its attack on the Syrian airfield.

“The U.S. introduces into the Korean peninsula, the world’s biggest hotspot, huge nuclear strategic assets, seriously threatening peace and security of the peninsula and pushing the situation there to the brink of a war,” the North’s KCNA news agency said on Friday, citing the statement.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves to people cheering during an opening ceremony of a newly constructed residential complex in Ryomyong street in Pyongyang, North Korea April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

“This has created a dangerous situation in which a thermo-nuclear war may break out any moment.”

North Korea, still technically at war with the South after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty, has on occasion conducted missile or nuclear tests to coincide with big political events and often threatens the United States, South Korea and Japan.

On Saturday, it marks the “Day of the Sun”, the 105th anniversary of the birth of state founder Kim Il Sung.

WITH OR WITHOUT YOU

While Trump has put North Korea on notice that he will not tolerate any more provocation, U.S. officials have said his administration is focusing its strategy on tougher economic sanctions.

Trump said on Thursday North Korea was a problem that “will be taken care of” and he believed Chinese President Xi Jinping would “work very hard” to help resolve it.

Trump has also said the United States is prepared to tackle the crisis without China, if necessary.

He diverted the nuclear-powered USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and its strike group towards the Korean peninsula last weekend in a show of force. (tmsnrt.rs/2p1yGTQ)

The dollar fell on Friday against a basket of currencies, on track for a losing week as tension over North Korea underpinned the perceived safe-haven Japanese yen.

Media in Japan said the government confirmed it would take all precautions in the face of possible North Korean provocations.

The Nikkei business daily said government discussions included how to rescue the estimated 57,000 Japanese citizens in South Korea as well as how to cope with a possible flood of North Korean refugees coming to Japan, among whom might be North Korean spies and agents.

In Pyongyang, retired soldier Ho Song Chol told Reuters that North Korea would win should there be any conflict with the United States.

“We don’t think about other things, we just live in our belief that we will win as long as our Supreme Leader is with us,” Ho said, referring to Kim Jong Un.

Kang Gil-won, a 26-year-old graduate living in Seoul, said his biggest concern was not North Korea, but finding work in a tough job market.

“There’s no concern that war is going to break out tomorrow,” he told Reuters at a “study café” where many young job seekers prepare for interviews.

“Getting a job is a war that I feel in my bones.”

Many South Koreans, meanwhile, marked “Black Day” on Friday, but it had nothing to do with worry about North Korea.

Black Day is a day for singles, marked by eating “jajangmyeon”, a noodle dish topped with a thick sauce made of black beans. It’s celebrated by singles as a response to “White Day”, an Asian Valentine’s Day which falls a month earlier, on March 14.

(Additional reporting by Nick Macfie, James Pearson and Ju-min Park in SEOUL, Natalie Thomas in Pyongyang, Linda Sieg in TOKYO and Michael Martina in BEIJING; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Robert Birsel)

The Emerging Trump Doctrine: Don’t Follow Doctrine

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Photo

The damage on Friday after a reported airstrike by the Syrian government in the rebel-held town of Douma, on the outskirts of Damascus. CreditAbd Doumany/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

WASHINGTON — As he confronted a series of international challenges from the Middle East to Asia last week, President Trump made certain that nothing was certain about his foreign policy. To the extent that a Trump Doctrine is emerging, it seems to be this: don’t get roped in by doctrine.

In a week in which he hosted foreign heads of state and launched a cruise missile strike against Syria’s government, Mr. Trump dispensed with his own dogma and forced other world leaders to re-examine their assumptions about how the United States will lead in this new era. He demonstrated a highly improvisational and situational approach that could inject a risky unpredictability into relations with potential antagonists, but also opened the door to a more traditional American engagement with the world that eases allies’ fears.

As a private citizen and candidate, Mr. Trump spent years arguing that Syria’s civil war was not America’s problem, that Russia should be a friend, and that China was an “enemy” whose leaders should not be invited to dinner. As president, Mr. Trump, in the space of just days, involved America more directly in the Syrian morass than ever before, opened a new acrimonious rift with Russia, and invited China’s leader for a largely convivial, let’s-get-along dinner at his Florida estate.

In the process, Mr. Trump upended domestic politics as well. He rejected the nationalist wing of his own White House, led by Stephen K. Bannon, his chief strategist, who opposes entanglement in Middle East conflicts beyond fighting terrorism and favors punitive trade measures against Beijing. And Mr. Trump, by launching the strike on Russia’s ally Syria, undercut critics who have portrayed him as a Manchurian candidate doing the bidding of President Vladimir V. Putin after the Kremlin intervened in last year’s election on his behalf.

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Given his unpredictability, none of this means that Mr. Trump has pivoted permanently in any of these areas. The White House has prepared an executive order that the president may sign in coming days targeting countries like China that dump steel in the American market. And Mr. Trump is sending Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson on Tuesday to Moscow, where he will have the additional task of trying to smooth over the rancor of recent days, in addition to exploring whether Russia could be a real partner in battling the Islamic State in Syria.

Moreover, the missile strike, in response to a chemical weapons attack, was intended to be a limited, one-time operation, and the president seemed determined to quickly move on. After announcing the attack Thursday evening, he made no mention of it Friday during public appearances, nor on Saturday during his weekly address. As of Saturday morning, the Twitter-obssessed president had not even taunted President Bashar al-Assad of Syria online, although he did thank the American troops who carried out the missile strike.

“Our decisions,” Mr. Trump said in the Saturday address, “will be guided by our values and our goals — and we will reject the path of inflexible ideology that too often leads to unintended consequences.”

That concept, flexibility, seems key to understanding Mr. Trump. He hates to be boxed in, as he mused in the Rose Garden last week while contemplating the first new military operation of his presidency with geopolitical consequences.

“I like to think of myself as a very flexible person,” he told reporters. “I don’t have to have one specific way.” He made clear he cherished unpredictability. “I don’t like to say where I’m going and what I’m doing,” he said.

That flexibility was a hallmark of his rise in real estate, and if critics preferred the word erratic, it did not bother Mr. Trump — it has since worked well enough to vault him to the White House. But now that he is commander in chief of the world’s most powerful nation, leaders around the world are trying to detect a method to the man.

“There is no emerging doctrine for Trump foreign policy in a classical sense,” said Kathleen H. Hicks, a former Pentagon official who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “There are, however, clear emerging characteristics consistent with the attributes of the man himself: unpredictable, instinctual and undisciplined.”

On Syria, Mr. Trump had mocked President Barack Obama for setting a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons and urged him not to launch a punitive strike against Syria after Mr. Assad crossed it in 2013. That attack, with a death toll of 1,400, dwarfed last week’s toll of 84. And just days before last week’s attack, Mr. Tillerson indicated that Washington would accept Mr. Assad’s remaining in power.

Photo

An injured child being treated after the strike. CreditAbd Doumany/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Indeed, critics, including Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, argued that Mr. Assad felt free to launch a chemical attack precisely because Mr. Trump’s administration had given him a green light. Russia, critics added, did not constrain Mr. Assad because it has had a blank check from an overly friendly Trump administration. And Mr. Trump’s efforts to bar Syrian refugees from the United States, they said, sent a signal that he did not care about them.

“President Trump seems not to have thought through any of this, or have any kind of broader strategy, but rather to have launched a military strike based on a sudden, emotional decision,” Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, wrote in an article for The Huffington Post on Saturday.

Mr. Assad is not the only leader testing Mr. Trump. North Korea has test-launched missile after missile in recent weeks, almost as if trying to get Mr. Trump’s attention. So far, he has been measured in his response, urging President Xi Jinping of China during his visit at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida to do more to rein in North Korea. But national security aides have also prepared options for Mr. Trump if China does not take a more assertive stance, including reintroducing nuclear weapons in South Korea.

Mr. Trump’s action in Syria was welcomed by many traditional American allies who had fretted over Mr. Obama’s reluctance to take a greater leadership role in the Middle East, and feared that Mr. Trump would withdraw even more. After the missile strike, Israeli news outlets were filled with headlines like “The Americans Are Back,” and European leaders expressed relief both that he took action and that he did not go too far.

“We have learned that Trump is not so isolationist as many Europeans feared he would be — he appears to care about victims of a gas attack in Syria,” said Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform in London. “We have learned that he understands that U.S. influence had suffered from the perception — which grew under Obama — that it was a power weakened by its reluctance to use force.”

That touches on another animating factor as Mr. Trump deals with foreign challenges — doing the opposite of whatever Mr. Obama did. Mr. Trump’s first instinct after the Syrian chemical attack was to blame Mr. Obama for not enforcing his red line, never mind that Mr. Trump had urged him not to at the time. Even as he announced the missile strike on Thursday night, Mr. Trump asserted that his predecessor’s handling of Syria had “failed very dramatically.”

Intentionally or not, though, Mr. Trump adopted language similar to that used by Mr. Obama and many other presidents in defining American priorities. While in the past Mr. Trump said the United States did not have a national interest in Syria, last week he said instability there was “threatening the United States and its allies.”

He also said that “America stands for justice,” effectively espousing a responsibility to act in cases of human rights abuses, as other presidents have at times.

Until now, Mr. Trump has largely eschewed such language. Just three days earlier, he had hosted Egypt’s authoritarian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and made no public mention of the thousands of people the Cairo government has imprisoned in a political crackdown.

“What is striking to me is a subtle yet clear shift away from the rhetoric of pure American self-interest narrowly defined, as espoused by candidate Donald Trump,” said Robert Danin, a former Middle East negotiator who is now at the Council on Foreign Relations. “What has emerged is a new language of American leadership in the world that we have not heard before from President Trump.”

Mr. Grant and others noted that the strike, coming as Mr. Trump shared a meal with Mr. Xi, could resonate in Asia as well, leaving North Korea to wonder whether the president might resort to force to stop its development of ballistic missiles.

But Ms. Hicks said Mr. Trump’s flexibility — or unpredictability — was itself “extremely risky.” If other countries cannot accurately predict what an American president will do, she said, they may act precipitously, citing the example of China’s extending its maritime claims in the South China Sea.

“Imagine if Donald Trump then took exception in ways they didn’t anticipate and major wars ensued,” she said. “Bright lines, derived from clear interests and enforced well, are generally best, and I don’t think Donald Trump likes to be constrained by bright lines.”

China-US Relations Should Bring More Benefits To People: Xi

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)

China-US relations should bring more benefits to people: Xi

VISITING Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday called on China and the United States to bring the two peoples more benefits as the world’s two biggest economies develop ties.

Addressing a welcome banquet hosted by US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania, Xi said he and Trump held good talks earlier in the afternoon, reaching important consensus for the development of China-US ties.

The two countries are willing to expand cooperation in trade and investment, diplomacy and security, law enforcement and cyber security, cultural and people-to-people exchanges on the basis of mutual respect and benefit, said Xi.

He also urged the two countries to manage differences and address sensitive issues in a constructive way.

During the speech, Xi expressed his readiness to lead, together with President Trump, people who have good wishes and passion to upgrade China-US relations.

Trump congratulated Xi on his achievements in leading China’s development, and the international respect Xi earned in the process.

Trump said he had a good discussion with Xi in their first meeting, exchanged opinions on a wide array of topics, and established a warm personal rapport.

Xi arrived in the southeastern US coastal town of Palm Beach on Thursday afternoon, starting his first meeting with Trump in a bid to push forward China-US relations from a new starting point.

The two leaders exchanged in-depth views with each other on major global and regional issues of common concern. They are to further their discussion on Friday.

China and Finland look to the future: President Jinping Visits Finland In Route To U.S.

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)

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China and Finland look to the future

CHINA and Finland yesterday agreed to establish and promote a “future-oriented new-type cooperative partnership,” with both sides pledging to enhance political mutual trust and deepen pragmatic cooperation.

During talks between visiting President Xi Jinping and his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto, the two heads of state stressed that to build a more forward-looking and strategic bilateral relationship that keeps pace with the times was in the fundamental interests of both countries.

“China and Finland are good friends and partners who respect each other, treat each other as equals and enjoy mutually beneficial cooperation,” Xi said. “The peoples of our two countries have always cherished a friendly sentiment toward each other.”

Noting that the development needs of China and Finland fit well with each other, Xi called on both sides to increase high-level exchanges, build up strategic mutual trust, explore potentials for cooperation and give support to each other in development.

Niinisto warmly welcomed the Chinese president for his visit on the occasion of the centenary of Finland’s independence.

Finland highly values China’s achievements in development and its important role in international affairs, he said.

The Finnish side hopes to carry out more high-level contacts and exchanges in all areas with China, and deepen cooperation in economy and trade, investment, innovation, environmental protection, tourism, winter sports and Arctic affairs, as well as within the framework of China’s Belt and Road initiative linking Asia with Europe and Africa, Niinisto said.

Finland also wants to strengthen communication and coordination with China on major international issues and push for an even closer cooperation between the European Union and China, he said.

In a written speech delivered on his arrival, Xi first extended congratulations to the Finnish government and people on the centenary of Finland’s independence.

“Since China and Finland established diplomatic ties 67 years ago, our relationship has maintained a steady and sound development no matter how the international landscape changes,” Xi said.

“Our relationship has become a model of friendly co-existence and mutually-beneficial cooperation between countries that are different in population and size, history and culture, social system and development level,” he said.

Xi said he looks forward to having in-depth exchanges of views with Finnish leaders on the China-Finland relationship and other issues of mutual concern, thus charting the course for the future development of the bilateral relations.

“I believe that with concerted efforts of both sides, my visit will achieve a complete success,” he added.

Finland was one of the first Western countries to establish diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of China, and the first Western nation to sign an intergovernmental trade agreement with China.

Currently, Finland is China’s third largest trading partner in the Nordic region, while China has been Finland’s biggest trading partner in Asia for 14 years.

The two sides have cooperated in areas such as high technology, clean energy, innovation and Arctic research, and further cooperation on winter sports is expected as China will host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

Xi’s visit to Finland is his first trip to a European Union member state this year, and also his first to the Nordic region as president.

After Finland, Xi will travel to Florida today for a meeting with US President Donald Trump.

It will be the first meeting between Xi and Trump, heads of state of the two biggest economies in the world.