The White House has also held off on much-anticipated trade action against China after Beijing backed U.N. Security Council sanctions passed on Saturday, although it is unclear how long President Donald Trump will delay this given domestic pressures to make good on campaign promises to crack down on unfair trade practices.
Washington has made clear it is reluctant, for the moment, to take steps that would antagonize China when its cooperation is needed to tighten the screws on its ally and neighbor North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs.
U.S. officials and U.N. diplomats say the threat of unilateral U.S. “secondary sanctions” against Chinese firms with North Korean ties and trade pressure from Washington helped persuade China to drop opposition to the new U.N. sanctions.
“It played an important role to get China on board,” one diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The 15 Security Council members voted unanimously on Saturday to impose the toughest U.N. sanctions yet on North Korea after it tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in July. The measures are designed to choke off a third of North Korea’s $3 billion annual export revenue.
China, North Korea’s main trading partner, has pledged to enforce the new sanctions but some critics are skeptical given what is widely seen as Beijing’s lax policing of existing restrictions.
Influential Chinese state-run tabloid the Global Times, published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, said in a Wednesday editorial that sanctions would not stop Pyongyang’s determination on its weapons’ programs.
“The U.S. asks China for help when it cannot solve its problems with North Korea. Some U.S. elites even want to urge China to claim full responsibility for the issue or they will threaten to retaliate,” it said.
“Moreover, those U.S. elites may not have considered the leverage China has over the U.S. What if China restricts the usage of iPhones and the number of Chinese students to the U.S., or imports fewer US agricultural products?”
Adding to the sense of urgency, Trump warned on Tuesday Pyongyang “will be met with fire and fury” if it threatened the United States. Earlier Pyongyang said it was ready to give Washington a “severe lesson” with its strategic nuclear force in response to any U.S. military action.