BEIJING â President Trump warned Thursday that North Korea could face âsome pretty severeâ consequences after its defiant test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, but Washington also confronted firm opposition from Russia and China over any possible response.
Trump did not specify potential U.S.-directed punishment for North Korea, which on Tuesday launched a missile that experts say had a range that made it capable of reaching Alaska. Yet efforts to find consensus among world powers appeared to hit a wall â sharply limiting Trumpâs options.
New sanctions would have little effect unless backed by China, which is the Northâs financial lifeline. Russia also has rejected further economic pressures on the regime of Kim Jong Un.
With key players at odds, Trump must now find a way forward as he heads into Group of 20 meetings in Germany later Thursday. In Germany, Trump is expected to have his second meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his first withÂ Russiaâs president, Vladimir Putin.
In Warsaw, Trump said the United States was considering âsome pretty severe thingsâ in response to what he called âvery, very bad behaviorâ from the North, although he did not mention any specific plans.
âSomething will have to be done about it,â he said.
At an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley accused China and Russia of âholding the handsâ of Kim, the North Korean leader.
Haley chided Beijing and Moscow for not supporting a resolution that would tighten sanctions and hinted that the United States would consider the use of force.
âOne of our capabilities lies with our considerable military forces,â she said. âWe will use them if we must, but we prefer not to have to go in that direction.â
Her words wereÂ met with criticism from Vladimir Safronkov, Russiaâs deputy ambassador to the United Nations, who called stricter sanctions ânot acceptableâ and military action âinadmissible.â
At a daily briefing in Beijing on Thursday, a spokesman for Chinaâs Foreign Ministry backed him up,Â calling for calm in response to U.S. remarks.Â
After his first meeting with Xi in April, Trump came out confident that China was on his side and would pressure Pyongyang to stop testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. That plan, as he recently tweeted,Â âhas not worked out.â
In recent weeks, Trump has stepped up his criticism of China. âTrade between China and North Korea grew almost 40 percent in the first quarter,â he tweeted Wednesday, without noting the source of the statistic.Â âSo much for China working with us â but we had to give it a try!â
But U.S. tough talk seems unlikely to bring Beijing on side, experts said.Â
The U.S. response to the ICBM test so far has encompassed joint military exercises with the South Koreans, calls for stricter sanctions on those doing business with North Korea and high-level warnings of military action â all of which are at odds with Chinese plans.
Itâs not that China does not care about the North Korean threat â it does â but that it sees it differently, analysts said.Â
Beijing and Pyongyang were once communist brothers-in-arms at war with American forces. Those days are long gone, but the memory of the 1950-1953 Korean War looms large.
The fact that thousands of U.S. troops are still stationed in South Korea is a sore point for the Chinese, which would rather not have the American military at their doorstep. Beijing often sees U.S. moves in South Korea, from joint exercises toÂ missile defense, as maneuvers designed to counter Chinese military might.
Indeed, theÂ âdouble suspensionâ plan pitched by China and Russia in the wake of the ICBM test calls for the United States and South Korea to suspend joint military exercises and for North Korea to freeze its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Over the years, Trump has saidÂ again and again that China is the key to squeezing the regime into submission. However, China does not appear willing to topple Kim.
âItâs not very likely that China will follow the will of the U.S. and put a âheavy moveâ on North Korea, like what President Trump has called for,â said Deng Yuwen, a Beijing-based expert on North Korea.
âIt would expand sanctions, but there is a bottom line, and the bottom line is that it wonât sanction North Korea such that it causes chaos in the North,â he added.
Lastly, Beijing does not have the same sense of urgency when it comes to North Korea. China has always been in reach of North Koreaâs military, so the development of an ICBM is not as much of a game-changer.Â
Plus,Â Chinaâs leadership remains focused on domestic issues, namely key political meetings set for the fall, said Michael Kovrig, a Beijing-based senior adviser for the International Crisis Group, and officials are unlikely to make any move that could threaten their bases of support.
âChinese analysts continue to argue that no amount of pressure, short of what might cause a collapse, will bring North Korea to denuclearize,â Kovrig said.
âBeijingâs prescription is still to coax rather than to pressure. Unlike the U.S., itâs not in a hurry and hopes that economic incentives can gradually induce Pyongyang to moderate its behavior.â
Luna Lin and Shirley Feng reported from Beijing.