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China's leaders don't like Trump's North Korea talk; but some Chinese do

Anita Kumar, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

BEIJING -- While China firmly if politely distances itself from Donald Trump's bellicose rhetoric about North Korea, the Chinese people are cheering the U.S. president's tougher approach and more aggressive language.

"If Donald Trump can solve this problem, it will be a big favor to China," said Hu Xingdau, an economics professor in Beijing.

In a country where the Communist government strives to manage, even dictate, the views of its people, interviews with a variety of Chinese throughout Beijing society showed a core or support for Trump's style of confronting North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, who is known here as "Little Fatty."

"Trump is right on what he has been doing," said Beijing financial analyst Ding Yongliang at China Investment Securities through a translator. "North Korea will only be submissive to power instead of peaceful negotiations."

Indeed, many Beijing residents told McClatchy that they hope Trump will persuade China President Xi Jinping to move more aggressively on the nuclear threat next-door and stop relying solely on negotiations. Hu even suggested the United States should abolish North Korea's nuclear missile facilities or launch a pre-emptive strike against the rogue nation.

"It's impossible to solve the problem with just peaceful negotiations," he said through a translator. "I want the issue solved as soon as possible."

Several of those interviewed worried about the consequences of talking to foreign media and only agreed to speak if the names of their employers were withheld.

Trump who came to China for a two-day visit this week in part to push Xi to do more to thwart North Korea's nuclear ambitions, left largely empty-handed. Xi mentioned the issue only briefly at a joint statement to reporters while Trump toned down his rhetoric after being feted with what the Chinese are calling a "state visit-plus," a lavish two-day event that included a formal arrival ceremony in Tiananmen Square complete with a red carpet, a military parade and a 21-gun salute, and tour of the Forbidden City.

Xi reiterated he would enforce the sanctions against North Korea approved by the United Nations Security Council, including China. The package sets a cap for oil shipments to North Korea, bans North Korean textile exports and prohibits the authorization of new work permits for North Koreans.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters later that Xi told Trump that the sanctions will take some time to work. "There's no space between both of our objectives," he said. "Clearly, we have our own views of the tactics and the timing and how far to go with pressure, and that's what we spent a lot of timing exchanging views on."

North Korea has conducted numerous missile tests and claims to be working on creating an arsenal of nuclear weapons.

China, worried a war will bring North Korean refugees streaming into the country, has repeatedly called to resume the six-party talks between North Korea and the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia. In 2005, North Korea reached an agreement with those countries to suspend its nuclear program but for years refused inspections to verify compliance. The Chinese government declined to answer questions for this story.

Ding said Chinese people support Trump -- who is suffering from record-low approval ratings at home as his administration remains mired in scandal and dysfunction. "Chinese people admire than kind of action," he said.

A newspaper, The South China Morning Post, reported this week that people asked what they thought of Trump before his visit said they liked his bluntness, style and outspoken views.

Qi Fei, a political journalist in Beijing, said social media and websites, some of the few places the Chinese can speak their minds in a country ruled by the Communist Party, are filled with people who back Trump's approach to North Korea, but don't often provide specifics about what China should do.

Qi said she's not sure whether to believe what Trump says he could do and says he may just be out to make his next deal -- perhaps to sell weapons to Japan and South Korea. "We can't solve it if he only cares about getting a deal," she said.

Trump has issued one provocative statement about North Korea after another all year.

He warned North Korea in August that he would unleash "fire, fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before." He dubbed Kim "Rocket Man." He vowed to "totally destroy North Korea" and said Kim was "on a suicide mission."

In September, he tweeted what North Korea took as a declaration of war. "Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won't be around much longer!" Trump wrote Sept. 23.

Danny Yang, who is studying at Beijing Foreign Studies University, described Trump's language as dramatic but said she was more than comfortable with it. "It's necessary," she said.

China, through statements and state-owned media has worked all year to tamp down tensions following the aggressive rhetoric but goes out of its way to not criticize by name the president of an important trading partner.

"We hope they will realize that verbal abuse alone will only increase the risk of conflicts and reduce the room for policy maneuver," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said of comments by Trump and Kim. "A war on the Korean Peninsula will have no winner."

Just this week, after Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke about launching missiles, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman called on everyone to make their words "conducive" to easing tensions. The situation "already has been very complicated, sensitive and fragile," Hua Chunying said, according to another newspaper, the China Daily.

Einar Tangen, a Beijing-based Chinese economic expert who regularly appears on Chinese state television as a commentator, said some Chinese people didn't like former President Barack Obama because he often came across as superior.

"A large number of people who like Trump say he's strong," he said. "It doesn't matter whether you are good or bad, it's 'I admire you because you are strong.'"

(c)2017 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau at www.mcclatchydc.com

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