President Trump claimed Saturday to have the backing of the leaders of China and Japan for his high-risk plan to hold a summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
Trump said that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping had “spoken at length” about the planned but so far unscheduled summit, and that Xi had said he “appreciates that the U.S. is working to solve the problem diplomatically rather than going with the ominous alternative. China continues to be helpful!”
Less than an hour later, Trump tweeted that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was “very enthusiastic about talks with North Korea.”
The tweets represent Trump’s simplistic characterization of conversations in recent days with Asian leaders whose reactions to his diplomatic gambit have been more complicated.
China, Japan and South Korea were rattled over the past year by an unprecedented exchange of threats and insults between Trump and Kim as North Korea carried out ballistic-missile and nuclear tests. The danger is immediate: North Korea has fired missiles over Japanese territory, while China is confronting the prospect of war on its border.
Trump warned last year that further provocations from Pyongyang would be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” In August, after Kim had declared that a nuclear strike launch button was ready at all times, Trump tweeted: “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
Against that menacing backdrop, Asian leaders see the prospect of a Trump-Kim summit as a helpful, de-escalating step, experts said. But the uncertainty surrounding the planned meeting has also created new anxieties.
Among them are that Trump was too quick to agree to a meeting without any apparent conditions, and that his sometimes impetuous approach could lead to unfortunate concessions.
“The leaders of Japan and China see significant promise but also a certain risk in the prospect of a [U.S.-North Korea] summit,” said Daniel Russel, a regional expert at the Asia Society who until last year served as assistant secretary of state for East Asia.
“For both Abe and Xi Jinping, the rhetoric of bloody nose and fire and fury was quite concerning,” Russel said. “I’m sure [the prospect of a summit] comes as a relief to a certain degree. But the leaders must have each wondered why they hadn’t been informed in advance and — certainly in the case of our close ally Japan — why there had been no prior consultation before the U.S. announcement.”
In comments to reporters after learning of the proposed Trump-Kim meeting, Abe said that the United States, Japan and South Korea should “continue imposing the utmost pressure until North Korea takes specific actions toward thorough, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization.”
Abe is expected to visit Trump in Washington next month before any meeting with Kim.
Trump also said that the two had discussed the U.S.-Japan trade relationship, which has been roiled by Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.
Trump said on Twitter that the United States has a “massive $100 billion” trade deficit with Japan, an erroneous assertion that significantly overstates the U.S. government estimates of $69 billion. “Not fair or sustainable,” Trump said, adding: “It will all work out!”
Later Saturday, Trump lashed out at the media for failing to give him adequate credit for what he depicted as a breakthrough with North Korea, saying on Twitter that “after hearing that North Korea’s leader wanted to meet with me to talk denuclearization and that missile launches will end, the press was startled & amazed. . . . But by the following morning the news became FAKE. They said so what, who cares!”