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US-China Summit: North Korea Divisions Cast Shadow

© REUTERS / KCNANorth Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a sub-unit under KPA Unit 1344 in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang November 9, 2016.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a sub-unit under KPA Unit 1344 in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang November 9, 2016. - Sputnik International
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The ineffectiveness of diplomatic and sanction pressure on North Korea has been laid bare just before a crucial US-China summit on April 6. Presidents Trump and Xi have fundamental disagreements over how to tackle the rogue statement, with Trump's recent threat of unilateral military action likely to cast a shadow over proceedings.

On Thursday, April 6, at President Trump's lavish Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida — dubbed the "Winter White House" by its owner — will play host to a state visit by the inscrutable Chinese President Xi Jinping.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervised a ballistic rocket launching drill of Hwasong artillery units of the Strategic Force of the KPA on the spot in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang March 7, 2017. - Sputnik International
Trump Hopes China Will Help US Eliminate North Korea Nuclear Threat
It will be the most critical meeting with a foreign leader since President Trump took office. At stake is how Trump's administration will respond to one of it's key foreign policy quandaries — North Korean illegal missile activity.

Less than 48 hours before both world leaders will meet in person for the first time, North Korea launched a medium range missile on Tuesday (April 4) evening — the latest in a series of controversial weapons tests in the last couple of months, which have destabilized the Asia-Pacific region.

Despite the flagrant provocation from Pyongyang, Trump's Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was not forthcoming on either censure, or policy proposals.

In a brief, cryptic statement, Tillerson said:

© REUTERS / Kevin Lamarque"North Korea launched yet another intermediate-range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment."
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks on issues related to visas and travel after US President Donald Trump signed a new travel ban order in Washington, US on March 6, 2017. - Sputnik International
"North Korea launched yet another intermediate-range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment."

However, that was in marked contrast to earlier far more blunt, even inflammatory rhetoric, from President Trump, a mere four days ago.

In an interview with British newspaper the Financial Times, Trump warned that the US will take unilateral military action to eliminate the nuclear threat from North Korea: even without Chinese help.

© REUTERS / Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool"China has great influence over North Korea. And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won"t. If they do, that will be very good for China, and if they don"t, it won"t be good for anyone…if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you," President Trump said.
U.S. President Donald Trump reacts after delivering his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives iin Washington, U.S., February 28, 2017 - Sputnik International
"China has great influence over North Korea. And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won"t. If they do, that will be very good for China, and if they don"t, it won"t be good for anyone…if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you," President Trump said.

Such a scenario would be a shocking break from precedent.

And President Trump's dire words will surely be in the forefront of the mind of President Xi ahead of their Florida meeting.

However, North Korea has long been within the sphere of influence of Beijing — a geopolitical fact so widely accepted that no Western leader has publicly threatened unilateral action against them before.

Publicly, China has urged the United States to take a "cool-headed" approach to escalating tensions with North Korea, instead calling for a diplomatic solution to North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

© REUTERS / KCNANorth Korean leader Kim Jong Un looks at a rocket warhead tip after a simulated test of atmospheric re-entry of a ballistic missile, at an unidentified location in this undated file photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on March 15, 2016.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un looks at a rocket warhead tip after a simulated test of atmospheric re-entry of a ballistic missile, at an unidentified location in this undated file photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on March 15, 2016. - Sputnik International
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un looks at a rocket warhead tip after a simulated test of atmospheric re-entry of a ballistic missile, at an unidentified location in this undated file photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on March 15, 2016.

However, behind the scenes, it's not yet clear whether Trump's bold threats will have thrown the Chinese off their guard, or whether a price will be exacted on Trump's administration.

After all, for President Trump, Chinese influence intersects with not just foreign policy but with major domestic promises as well.

This combination of file photos shows U.S. President Donald Trump on March 28, 2017, in Washington, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Feb. 22, 2017, in Beijing - Sputnik International
US, Chinese Presidents to Discuss Trade, Investments During Florida Summit
While campaigning for the presidency, Mr. Trump made the promise of overhauling US infrastructure a key policy pledge to voters. The prospect of fixing crumbling bridges and motorways, together with the thousands of jobs that would be made, was an attractive prospect in many Rust Belt states across the US.

However, Trump's advisers have previously briefed the media that they believe that Chinese foreign direct investment in major infrastructure projects would be an ideal way for the US and China to work together.

So far, there has been no official word from China on any infrastructure deals in the US.

Also, on the domestic front, is the US-China trade deficit, which Trump has long railed against as being unfair.

With Trump's incendiary comments on China, the President may find his Chinese counterpart more uncompromising to work with than he had hoped, to the detriment of both his foreign and domestic policy objectives.

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