Asia-Pacific News

US efforts to use China to rein in North Korea are 'choppy', but may bear fruit: Former Treasury Secretary

Key Points
  • Former Treasury Secretary Paulson weighs in on North Korea
  • Mark Cuban also questions China policy implementation
  • Both spoke at Harvard China forum
Hank Paulson
Kate Rooney | CNBC

With signs that North Korea may be preparing for a sixth nuclear test, President Donald Trump has asserted that "China is the economic lifeline" of the rogue state and can solve the problem if they wanted to.

In the meantime Vice-President Mike Pence wound up a 10-day tour of four Asian nations, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and Australia by using the last stop to applaud the "unprecedented" steps China has taken recently in applying economic pressure, but adding they "can do more."

"Choppy" is how former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson would describe China's tightening sanctions. Speaking at the Harvard China Forum on Saturday, Paulson said "when you see this tyrant in North Korea parading weapons" and for China to be upset when South Korea brings in a missile defense system, it just "doesn't make sense."

According to Paulson, it may come down to a difference in objectives when it comes to the Korean Peninsula. "China places a bigger importance on stability, whereas the US places a bigger importance on denuclearization."

But he does see positive signs in US China engagement under Trump, adding "it is highly unusual and positive for a Chinese president to give a phone call to (the U.S.) president so soon after a summit on North Korea."

President Donald Trump (L) and China's President Xi Jinping walk along the front patio of the Mar-a-Lago estate after a bilateral meeting in Palm Beach, Florida, April 7, 2017.
Carlos Barria | Reuters

Also speaking at the Harvard China event, vocal Trump critic billionaire tech investor and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban, said: "Personally I'm not a huge fan of our president and some of his issues. I don't know who's driving his Chinese policy and I don't get a sense that he knows what's happening."

In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal Trump has suggested he might be more tolerant of U.S. trade deficits with China in order to get their help in handcuffing North Korea's provocation. A turnaround from his campaign rhetoric accusing China of stealing U.S. jobs and benefiting from unfair trade.

The trade detente may not last long though according to Paulson who says: "I do believe this administration recognizes that the American people believes the relationship has been one sided and they are going to demand more openings."

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