The Chinese Foreign Ministry asserted that its efforts to contain North Korea are “earnest and serious,” while Chinese state media called President Donald Trump’s accusations of illicit oil trade with Pyongyang “absurd” and “irresponsible” on Friday.
Trump accused Beijing of “allowing oil to go into North Korea” via Twitter on Thursday night, repeating the accusations in an interview with the New York Times published that same day. On Friday, South Korean authorities seized a Hong Kong ship accused of transporting oil into North Korea illegally.
China’s state-run Global Times claimed in a piece published before the seizure of the Hong Kong ship that Trump’s accusations were “met with mockery and criticism in China.” It cites numerous academics working at state-run institutions, who dismissed Trump’s claims, and his use of Twitter generally, as irresponsible.
“China does not need any push or pressure from the U.S. or any other country to solve the North Korea nuclear issues because this is an issue that could have direct and huge impact on China,” researcher Mei Xinyu told the Times, calling Trump’s warning that the United States could limit trade with China over the North Korea issue “absurd and truly laughable” and “a really stupid decision.”
“I don’t know what’s more absurd: That we are seeing the president of the world’s most powerful country conducting diplomatic negotiations on Twitter or that we know the U.S. president is getting information from fake news reports,” another one of China’s state media “experts,” Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences academic Lü Chao, is quoted as saying, adding that Trump was being “irresponsible” by citing “false connections” between China and North Korea in foreign media.
China is North Korea’s largest trading partner, responsible for over 90 percent of North Korea’s trade volume. China’s trade with North Korea increased in 2017, despite Pyongyang’s growing belligerence and global concern regarding the possibility of a preemptive nuclear attack.
China insists that it upholds United Nations sanctions against North Korea. The U.N. Security Council passed new sanctions on North Korea’s oil trade last week. Official Chinese customs data shows that Beijing did not export any oil to North Korea in November, despite new evidence that Chinese ships were transporting oil into the country.
President Trump described China as being “caught RED HANDED” on Twitter Thursday, apparently referring to a South Korean media report finding that China had conducted at least 30 illegal oil deals with North Korea. “Very disappointed that China is allowing oil to go into North Korea,” the president said. “There will never be a friendly solution to the North Korea problem if this continues to happen!”
In the New York Times interview, President Trump complained, “Oil is going into North Korea. That wasn’t my deal!”
Noting that Chinese communist leader Xi Jinping “treated me better than anybody’s ever been treated in the history of China” when he was in the country in November, Trump nonetheless added that China must step up to confront the “nuclear menace” of North Korea or he would “do what I’ve always said I want to do,” implying trade repercussions for China.
The morning after the interview went live, South Korean authorities confirmed that they had seized a Hong Kong ship, the Lighthouse Winmore, accused of shipping 600 tons of refined petroleum to a North Korean ship in October. 23 of the ship’s 25 crew members are Chinese citizens.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters during her regular briefing Friday that she had “no relevant information” regarding the seizure of the ship. On Trump’s accusations generally, Hua was significantly less abrasive than the Global Times, as the Foreign Ministry typically is.
“China has been comprehensively and strictly implementing the Security Council resolutions and fulfilling its due international obligations,” Hua said. “No Chinese national or company is allowed to engage in activities in violation of the Security Council resolutions. If, through investigation, it is confirmed there are violations of the Security Council resolutions, the Chinese side will deal with them seriously in accordance with laws and regulations.”
Hua insisted that “any act of violation, once found and proven, will be dealt with seriously in accordance with laws and regulation. Not a single case of violation should get away with it.” With that promise, however, Hua also claimed that investigations already conducted had not discovered proof of any illicit activity.
While North Korea has not officially responded to these arrests, its state media outlets have condemned the United States for leading the latest round of sanctions against the communist regime, calling the sanctions “hideous” and both the United States and South Korea “aggressors and provokers disturbing peace and security of the Korean Peninsula and the region and bringing disaster of a nuclear war to the nation.” The outlets have also accused the United States of “threatening and bribing the UNSC member nations.”