Chinese President Xi Jinping with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un meeting in Beijing last May. Photo: NCNA via AFP

US President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Monday to break his silence on the disappointing result of talks with North Korea last week, suggesting that China was exerting influence to gain leverage in trade talks.

“I have confidence that Kim Jong Un will honor the contract we signed &, even more importantly, our handshake,” Trump said in a tweet, playing up the personal relationship between himself and Kim. The US president is said to consider personal rapport between leaders as key in bilateral negotiations between nations.

“We agreed to the denuclearization of North Korea. China, on the other hand, may be exerting negative pressure on a deal because of our posture on Chinese Trade-Hope Not!” Trump added.

The tweet comes amid widespread speculation in Washington that Beijing and Pyongyang might in some way coordinate to increase leverage in ongoing talks with the White House.

There was little optimism ahead of Mike Pompeo’s trip to Pyongyang last week, and little clarity on exactly what he was expected to come away with. Following the trip, North Korean media lambasted what they called a “gangster-like” approach from the US, promising they would not unilaterally disarm without getting anything in return.

Trump had previously linked China’s cooperation on pressuring North Korea to the bilateral trade relationship, saying in an interview in December that “I have been soft on China because the only thing more important to me than trade is war.”

Trump also accused China at the same time of undermining the sanctions regime, claiming on Twitter that Beijing was “caught RED HANDED.”

“Very disappointed that China is allowing oil to go into North Korea. There will never be a friendly solution to the North Korea problem if this continues to happen!” Trump wrote. The US president expressed a similarly skeptical attitude towards China’s cooperation in July of last year.

For the first year of his presidency, while he drummed up support from Beijing for several rounds of increasingly harsh sanctions on North Korea, Trump remained subdued in his challenges to China on trade. The first major follow through on a trade threat directed unilaterally at China coincided with Pompeo’s meeting in North Korea last week, adding to speculation that China may be trying to leverage its position as the final guarantor of economic pressure on Pyongyang in trade talks with the US.

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