WASHINGTON/BEIJING -- Eager to show progress against North Korea, U.S. President Donald Trump is leaning harder on China to restrain its ally, but his heavy-handed approach only seems to be pushing Beijing away.
"Both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to a denuclearized Korean Peninsula," the White House said of Trump's Sunday call with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
"President Trump reiterated his determination to seek more balanced trade relations with America's trading partners," the readout added, suggesting that the president was brandishing the threat of deficit-reducing trade moves in order to press China to act.
When the two leaders first met in April, they agreed to cooperate closely on North Korea's nuclear weapons. But China has been slow to deliver on Trump's hopes. Given the lack of progress over the last three months, the U.S. has tried turning up the pressure on Beijing of late by imposing unilateral sanctions on a Chinese bank accused of helping Pyongyang launder money, lining up an arms sale to Taiwan, and sailing a warship in the South China Sea.
With Sunday's call, Trump attempted to appeal to Xi directly for action ahead of their second meeting, scheduled on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany starting Friday. But the Chinese response has been cool.
Xi said in the call that negative factors have affected bilateral relations, according to state media. He reportedly also urged appropriate U.S. dealings with Taiwan, which Beijing considers the biggest flashpoint in its ties with Washington. On the North Korean issue, China simply said the leaders discussed peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.
The Chinese appear to want to explain their efforts to Trump at the upcoming summit. But a brief period of Sino-American cooperation already seems to be giving way to something else.
Trump also spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by phone Sunday. The U.S. leader said his recent summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in went well, paving the way for a show of solidarity at their three-way summit at the G-20.