President Donald Trump issued a White House statement about North Korea on Wednesday evening via Twitter, casting blame on China for difficulties in the US-North Korea relationship and asserting there is "no reason at this time" to spend money on joint military exercises with South Korea.
"President Donald J. Trump feels strongly that North Korea is under tremendous pressure from China because of our major trade disputes with the Chinese government. At the same time, we also know that China is providing North Korea with considerable aid, including money, fuel, fertilizer and various other commodities. This is not helpful!" he said in a series of tweets.
"Nonetheless, the President believes that his relationship with Kim Jong Un is a very good and warm one, and there is no reason at this time to be spending large amounts of money on joint U.S.-South Korea war games. Besides, the President can instantly start the joint exercises again with South Korea, and Japan, if he so chooses. If he does, they will be far bigger than ever before," Trump tweeted.
Trump sought to tie the impasse with North Korea with his trade tensions with China, although it is unclear how Beijing might be thwarting progress on the denuclearization front.
A spokesperson for the Beijing government said the US was "using this kind of logic to distort facts, and such logic is beyond comprehension."
"China has been reiterating its position on this issue," spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters during a press briefing at the Foreign Affairs ministry on Thursday. "We hope that the US would honor its pledges and commitments and play a positive and constructive role in settling this issue, just like we Chinese people do," she said. The US, she said, " should look at itself to find out what is wrong instead of shifting blame onto others."
The President has previously derided military exercises as a waste of money, telling reporters during a news conference following his June summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that he thought such exercises were "very provocative."
Defense Secretary James Mattis maintained earlier Wednesday that military exercises have been suspended but no decisions have been made on future exercises.
"The Department of Defense suspended three individual military exercises in order to provide space for our diplomats to negotiate the verifiable, irreversible and complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Our military posture has not changed since the conclusion of the Singapore summit and no decisions have been made about suspending any future exercises," Mattis said in a statement.
Trump also addressed his relationship with China's President Xi Jinping in his own statement.
"As for the U.S.--China trade disputes, and other differences, they will be resolved in time by President Trump and China's great President Xi Jinping. Their relationship and bond remain very strong," the statement said.
The tweets come hours after Trump was noncommittal when asked by reporters about North Korea's denuclearization progress, again pivoting to blame China.
"I think we're doing well with North Korea. We'll have to see," he said in the Roosevelt Room, adding that "part of the North Korea problem is caused by our trade disputes with China."
Trump said he has a "great relationship" with China and Xi but that the country makes the US's relationship with North Korea "difficult."
"China is the route to North Korea. Ninety-three percent of the product and various things are going to North Korea go in through China, so I think that now that we are in somewhat -- I don't like to call it a trade war ... but China's having a very, very tough time. And I think that China makes it much more difficult in terms of our relationship with North Korea," Trump said.
Asked whether he thinks North Korea is holding up its end of the deal, Trump said: "We're going to have to see. But I think China probably has a great influence over North Korea. I have a fantastic relationship with Chairman Kim, as you probably know, and we're just going to have to see how it all ends up."
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has had at least three meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Trump has suggested that Kim's reticence to accede to certain US demands in the past was influenced by his conversations with the Chinese leader.
While China and the US are at loggerheads over trade, they both share at least one goal regarding security in the region: a belligerent North Korea backing down on its nuclear ambitions. China is North Korea's biggest trade partner and is keen for sanctions to cede to resume trading with North Korea, and to prevent any disruption in its own security interests on the peninsula.
China's concerns over the political stability of the Kim regime include the fear that North Koreans, fleeing a regime collapse, could overwhelm the border they share with China. That, in turn, might also allow South Korean and US troops to move into North Korea, leaving China with US military right on its doorstep.