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Secretary Of State Pompeo Visits China, Japan, South Korea After Summit


President Trump has tweeted that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat after his summit with its chairman, Kim Jong Un. That has given Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a lot of explaining to do in conversations with international leaders in both South Korea and China. NPR's Rob Schmitz reports.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: In meetings with leaders of three countries in two different cities, Pompeo's message was a much sober one than that of his boss just hours earlier. After reassuring American allies Japan and South Korea this morning in Seoul, he flew to Beijing, where he said the U.S. would consider making a call to lift economic sanctions on the North.


MIKE POMPEO: But we have made very clear that the sanctions and the economic relief that North Korea will receive will only happen after the full denuclearization, the complete denuclearization of North Korea.

SCHMITZ: Pompeo told reporters in Seoul he expected, quote, "major disarmament" in North Korea before the end of President Trump's first term in office. When pressed on how the U.S. would verify the North's denuclearization, though, Pompeo became irritated and berated a reporter by calling the question insulting and ludicrous. The administration is under heavy criticism from media and regional experts who say the agreement Trump signed with Kim Jong Un conceded too much and, in the end, served China's interests, too.

BILL BISHOP: All the things that they were really concerned about - conflict, refugees, collapse of their neighbor - seemed to be off the table in the near term.

SCHMITZ: China expert and author Bill Bishop says China is likely pleased with the outcome in Singapore. Up until now, China's government has scrambled to keep up with rapidly escalating tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. And on Trump's behest, they've cooperated with U.N. sanctions on the country. China's has also played a key role in getting Kim Jong Un to the table with Trump, who has linked his trade demands to Beijing's willingness to help put economic pressure on North Korea.

BISHOP: You know, they did a lot more than they've really I think ever done to pressure North Korea. It seemed like the message from the Trump administration had been, you know, the trade in North Korea are linked. You help us with North Korea, we'll go easy on trade. Now it seems pretty clear that Trump wants to de-link those two.

SCHMITZ: Bishop says now that Trump has gotten what he wants from China and North Korea, his patience with the trade imbalance with China may be running out. The Trump administration is expected to impose 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports as soon as this Friday, when it's expected to publish a final list of Chinese goods that'll take the hit. Renmin University professor of international relations Shi Yinhong says China's watching closely.

SHI YINHONG: (Through interpreter) If tomorrow Trump announces imposing tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods, China's promises to increase U.S. exports and make it easier for U.S. companies to enter the Chinese market won't happen.

SCHMITZ: Foreign Minister Wang Yi, speaking through an interpreter at a press conference with Mike Pompeo in Beijing, laid out the options on trade.


WANG YI: (Through interpreter) We have two options. One is cooperation and win-win outcomes. The second, confrontation and a lose-lose scenario.

SCHMITZ: That's where both countries lose on trade and, says professor Shi, China would likely stop helping the U.S. on North Korea, a scenario that could spell trouble for the goodwill still lingering from the Singapore summit. Rob Schmitz, NPR News, Shanghai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
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