Balance of Power: Trump in a Bind on China

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(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump’s honeymoon with China was always precarious.

The U.S. president has been courting Beijing to help rein in North Korea over its weapons program ever since he hosted President Xi Jinping in April. But yesterday his frustrations with both countries emerged, hours before he dined with South Korea’s new president in Washington.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin fired the first salvo, announcing sanctions on a relatively small Chinese bank and shipping company for being “North Korea’s external enablers.” Hours later, the administration approved a $1.3 billion arms package for Taiwan, a modest move that nevertheless annoyed China.

The shift in U.S. tone began last week after the death of Otto Warmbier, a U.S. student who was held in North Korea for over a year. On Twitter, Trump said China’s efforts on North Korea have “not worked out.”

Trump will try to paper over differences with South Korea on how to deal with Pyongyang when he holds talks with President Moon Jae-in at the White House today. But even if he gets Moon onside, Trump can’t afford to irk China too much. Beijing, as the economic lifeline for North Korea, remains the best route to reclusive leader Kim Jong Un.

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