Trump doubles down on ‘fire and fury,’ and Beijing shrugs


A summary of the top news in Chinese politics and current affairs for August 10, 2017. Part of the daily SupChina newsletter, a convenient package of China’s business, political, and cultural news delivered to your inbox for free. Subscribe here.

China's Vice-Premier Li Keqiang attends a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos January 28, 2010. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

More developments on the war of words between Trump and North Korea, as China looks on (see Trump taunts North Korea as China urges calm on SupChina to catch up):

  • Trump doubled down on his improvised remark threatening North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” saying (paywall) today, “It’s about time that somebody stuck up for the people of this country and for the people of other countries. So if anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough.”
  • The people in at least one other country at the center of the tensions — South Korea — are definitely not feeling reassured by these statements. Jane Perlez at the New York Times reports (paywall) that now China “sees an opening” with South Korea because “pre-emptive action against North Korea…would be anathema to the liberal government of the South’s new president, Moon Jae-in.”

China’s official reaction to Trump’s latest threat has been mild. Here are a few reasons why:

  • The foreign ministry is on a two-week summer break, Reuters notes.
  • China’s leaders are currently holding high-level meetings at Beidaihe, the “smoke-filled room,” and consequently are much more focused on domestic policy.
  • Perlez notes that Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner are due to visit China next month, and “Beijing is putting considerable effort into ensuring that the visit goes smoothly.”
  • China now appears to take Trump’s words no more seriously than the words of North Korea’s government, which regularly threatens the South Korean capital with utter destruction. Yun Sun, a senior associate at the Stimson Center, tells Perlez that “A striking impression is how little China sees the threats by either North Korea or Trump as credible.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. conducted its third freedom of navigation operation this year in the South China Sea near Mischief Reef, a Chinese-built island close to the Philippines. Reuters says that the move to challenge China “could complicate efforts to secure a common stance” between the U.S. and China on North Korea, merely five days after the countries agreed to slap sanctions on a third of North Korea’s exports.