Donald Trump keeps changing his mind on who's responsible for dealing with North Korea

After saying the U.S. would handle North Korea if China won't, Trump now is asking for China's help

By Matthew Sheffield
April 21, 2017 10:41PM (UTC)
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(AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File)

During his campaign, Trump repeatedly blasted China as the root of American economic problems. “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country," he once said.

All of that is out the window now, as Trump has been trying desperately to enlist Chinese assistance in getting Kim to curtail his nuclear ambitions.


The latest episode of North Korean grandstanding involves its repeated attempts to test long-range missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons and to develop said weapons for itself. The situation has essentially led President Donald Trump to reverse pretty much all of his tough rhetoric against the government of China, the only real ally of consequence that Kim has in the world.

"China is very much the economic lifeline to North Korea so, while nothing is easy, if they want to solve the North Korean problem, they will," Trump tweeted on Friday, the second day that he has been hosting Xi Jinping, the Chinese ruler at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

Getting China to put pressure on Kim has required Trump to go back on some of the things he'd promised to do on the campaign trail. Among them was a vow to take steps against China for keeping its current too low in the international monetary market.


This month, Trump reversed himself and explicitly said that it was because he was trying to get China to get North Korea to back off:

"Why would I call China a currency manipulator when they are working with us on the North Korean problem?" he tweeted on April 16. "We will see what happens!"

Trump's softer tone toward China and North Korea is also a reversal of sorts. Earlier in the month, the administration has also issued vague threats that America would be willing to do something against North Korea on its own.


“Well, if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will,” Trump said in an April 3 interview with the Financial Times. He didn't specify just what that would entail.

"I'm not going to tell you," he said when asked about possible strategies.

"You know, I am not the United States of the past where we tell you where we are going to hit in the Middle East. Where they say — I used it in the speeches — 'We will be attacking Mosul in four months'. A month later, 'We will be attacking Mosul in three months, in two months, in one month.' And why are they talking? There is no reason to talk."


Just a few days ago, Vice President Mike Pence was dispatched to the North/South Korean border to essentially challenge Kim. He echoed those sentiments in a Washington Post interview on Wednesday.

“I think the path of negotiations with North Korea has been a colossal failure now for more than 25 years,” Pence said.

Should some sort of hostilities break out, there's no doubt that the recent chorus of hawkish fans that Trump suddenly accrued when he launched missile strakes against Syria would almost certain approve.


“I am like the happiest dude in America right now,” Sen. Lindsey Graham proclaimed in an April 19 interview with “Fox & Friends.”

“I am all in. Keep it up, Donald,” Graham added. “I'm sure you're watching."

Matthew Sheffield

A writer, web developer, and former tv producer, Matthew Sheffield covers politics, media, and technology for Salon. You can email him via or follow him on Twitter.

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