An opportunity to hit North Korea with new United Nations sanctions has sidelined President Donald Trump’s bid to punish China for its alleged unfair trade practice.
The White House had been preparing for a Friday announcement in which Trump planned to urge his administration to open a trade investigation into China’s alleged violations of U.S. intellectual property rights and forced technology transfers, three administration officials said.
But on Thursday afternoon, senior administration aides postponed the announcement at the urging of United Nations and State Department officials, who are in the sensitive final stages of convincing China to sign on to a U.N. resolution that would impose new sanctions on North Korea. U.N. and State Department officials warned that the trade announcement could kill their chances of winning Beijing’s buy-in, according to the officials.
"There are broader talks about diplomatic considerations,” an administration official said. The official added that the threat of U.S. action on trade has led to a round of separate conversations between the U.S. and China on the issue at “high levels,” though the president has not directly been involved.
A different U.S. official told POLITICO Friday talks have advanced with the Chinese and Russians on a North Korea resolution, with the potential to hold a vote at the Security Council on Saturday.
"The U.S. has circulated a draft of a resolution among Security Council members," the U.S. official said. That indicates China — and Russia — are close to agreement with the U.S. and its allies on the wording.
When asked Friday if the Russians and Chinese are amenable, a Security Council diplomat said, "We have high confidence that they will be on board with this resolution."
Two of the administration officials said they were still hopeful Trump will announce the trade action against China, but they said the exact timing is unclear.
Trump is slated to urge U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to open an investigation against China under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974. The investigation could eventually result in tariffs or other punitive measures.
Lighthizer is expected to be out of the U.S. next week, but aides said that wouldn’t necessarily stop Trump from making the trade announcement.
The president has railed against China in recent days, arguing the country isn’t doing enough to stop North Korea from developing a nuclear weapon capable of striking the United States. A decision by China to sign on to the U.N. resolution sanctioning North Korea would be one step in easing U.S. tensions with Beijing.
A State Department spokesperson declined to comment. A White House spokeswoman countered that the administration had never officially announced plans to make the trade announcement on Friday. “We’ll let you know when we have something to announce,” the spokeswoman said.
Doug Palmer contributed to this story.