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N Korea fires missile before Trump-Xi summit

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Pyongyang's provocation will accentuate differences as US and Chinese presidents meet

WASHINGTON US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet face-to-face for the first time today (US time), opening a new chapter in the world's most consequential relationship amid growing crises over North Korea and trade.

The leaders of the world's two pre-eminent economic and military powers will rendezvous in the south Florida sun at Mr Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate for a summit already clouded by geopolitical storms.

North Korea's provocative missile launch yesterday will only accentuate the differences over whether to confront or contain that recalcitrant regime. The White House worries Pyongyang is just months away from marrying nuclear and long-range missile technology and putting the US west coast within striking distance.

During his first meeting with then president Barack Obama in November, Mr Trump was warned he may have to make an early decision on the use of force against North Korea, and Mr Trump has repeatedly and publicly indicated his openness to military action.

Even before news of the latest missile test became public, a senior US official echoed that message, saying "the clock has now run out" on dealing with the North Korean threat and "all options are on the table for us".

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson responded to the missile test with a terse statement, saying: "The US has spoken enough about North Korea."

But according to the official, Mr Trump is also willing to consider other ways of pressuring the regime, including sanctioning Chinese banks that do business with Pyongyang if Beijing does not move to choke North Korea's finances.

That could have a chilling effect on global finance, even though diplomats say North Korea is increasingly alive to the risk and has steadily been funneling cash to other jurisdictions outside China.

Mr Xi's government - which is treaty-bound to defend North Korea - fears US military action would set off a general war on the Korean Peninsula and generate millions of refugees.


Chinese analysts scoffed at the idea that Mr Trump's tough talk would have any impact on Beijing's approach to its renegade neighbour.

"China has established principles on the North Korea issue," said Mr Yang Xiyu, a researcher at China Institute of International Studies. There will definitely be in-depth discussion of the North Korea's denuclearisation, but the Chinese side will not change its positions because of anything Mr Trump says."

But behind the tactical differences is a broader strategic struggle - one that pits an established hegemon against a fast-rising challenger.

Increased tensions in North Korea would almost certainly prompt a larger US military presence in north-east Asia, encroaching on what China increasingly sees as its sphere of influence.

Beijing has already expressed its displeasure at the deployment of a US anti-missile system in South Korea.

On trade, there may be more room for manoeuvre.

Experts predicted that Mr Xi could come bearing concessions on sectors such as steel or repackage already planned Chinese investments in the US.

That would offer Mr Trump the prospect of a triumphalist tweet about bringing jobs to the US and forestalling measures to levy heavy tariffs on Chinese exports. - AFP

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