April 13, 2017 10:00 am JST

Editorial: Deeper US-China cooperation could help ease North Korea tensions

Trump-Xi summit fails to produce visible agreement on dealing with North's nukes, missiles

The Chinese container ship Cosco Glory waits to be unloaded at the Port of Oakland in California. © AP

The leaders of the world's two largest economies, U.S. President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, deserve credit for the progress they made in their first summit on April 6-7 at Trump's private resort in Florida. The two leaders agreed to forge new high-level dialogue mechanisms in four key areas, including diplomacy and security, the economy, and cybersecurity, at a time when relations between the two countries are increasingly strained.

However, on North Korea's nuclear and missile development programs, a focal point of their two-day summit that concerns security in Asia, the two leaders failed to produce any visible agreement, though they did suggest a posture toward working together on the issue.

Immediately before the Trump-Xi talks, North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile. Pyongyang has repeatedly conducted the provocative missile launches, in part because the reclusive nation's supreme leader, Kim Jong Un, perceives that the Chinese Communist leadership is taking sides with the North for strategic reasons.

Furthermore, Beijing has expressed strong opposition to the planned deployment in South Korea of an advanced U.S. anti-missile defense system, known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), intended to defend against the threat from North Korea.

These Chinese moves benefit North Korea, which makes it harder to achieve Beijing's own goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. The Chinese leadership should exert more pressure on Pyongyang in such a way that the effects of such efforts can be confirmed.

There is also a clear difference between the postures of Washington and Beijing toward the South China Sea issue. No country other than the U.S. has the strength to stop China from unilaterally constructing military facilities on reefs in the disputed waters. The issue has sparked deep concern among Southeast Asian countries, so the U.S. government needs to persuade Beijing in an effective way.

In the Florida talks, Xi emphasized that the relationship between the People's Liberation Army and the U.S. military is a core component of Sino-U.S. relations. If the Chinese leader really recognizes the importance of a cooperative security framework for averting military clashes, China should refrain from its unilateral assertive behavior in the first place.

Their summit discussions on the economic front focused on America's massive trade deficits with China. For some time, Trump has expressed his view that U.S.-China trade should not be allowed to continue under the current conditions, which allow U.S. deficits to pile up.

But bilateral trade imbalances with the U.S. are not a problem for China alone. Heightened American protectionism would hurt Japan and other countries, too. We will closely watch how this issue develops, in case it disrupts stability in the Asian and global economies.

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