Inaction over Pyongyang and trade war thought to have prompted the US president to look at options including tariffs on steel imports
US president Donald Trump is growing increasingly frustrated with China over its inaction on North Korea and bilateral trade issues and is now considering possible trade actions against Beijing, three senior administration officials told Reuters.
The officials said Trump was impatient with China and was looking at options including tariffs on steel imports, which commerce secretary Wilbur Ross has already said he is considering as part of a national security study of the domestic steel industry.
Whether Trump would actually take any steps against China remains unclear. In April, he backed off from a threat to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) after he said Canadian and Mexican leaders asked him to halt a planned executive order in favour of opening discussions.
The officials said there was no consensus yet on the way forward with China and they did not say what other options were being studied. No decision was expected this week, a senior official said.
Chinese steel is already subject to dozens of anti-dumping and anti-subsidy orders. As a result it has only a small share of the US market.
Whats guiding this is he ran to protect American industry and American workers, one of the US officials said, referring to Trumps 2016 election promise to take a hard line on trade with China.
On North Korea, Trump feels like he gave China a chance to make a difference but has not seen enough results, the official said.
The US has pressed China to exert more economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea to help rein in its nuclear and missile programs. Beijing has repeatedly said its influence on North Korea is limited and that it is doing all it can.
They did a little, not a lot, the official said. And if hes not going to get what he needs on that, he needs to move ahead on his broader agenda on trade and on North Korea.
The death of American university student Otto Warmbier last week, after his release from 17 months of imprisonment in Pyongyang, has further complicated Trumps approach to North Korea, his top national security challenge.
Trump signalled his disappointment with Chinas efforts in a tweet a week ago: While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!
Trump had made a grand gesture of his desire for warm ties with Chinas president, Xi Jinping, when he played host to Xi in April at his Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach, Florida. I think China will be stepping up, Trump said at the time.
Since then, however, North Koreas tests of long-range missiles have continued unabated and there have been reports Pyongyang is preparing for another underground nuclear test.
Trump dropped by last Thursday when White House national security adviser HR McMaster and Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner were meeting Chinese state councillor Yang Jiechi, an official said. Chinas inability to make headway on North Korea was one of the topics that was discussed, according to two people familiar with the meeting.
Officials in Beijing did not respond to a request for comment on the meeting.