High emotions: Protesters shout anti-US government slogans during a protest outside the US embassy in the Philippines on Thursday. Picture: REUTERS
High emotions: Protesters shout anti-US government slogans during a protest outside the US embassy in the Philippines on Thursday. Picture: REUTERS

Beijing — US President Donald Trump urged Chinese leader Xi Jinping to act fast to help resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis, during their meeting in Beijing on Thursday, warning that "time is quickly running out".

Speaking on the second day of a trip to Beijing marked by pomp and pageantry, Trump decried China’s "one-sided and unfair" trade surplus with the US but told Xi, "I don’t blame China", as the two nations signed more than $250bn in business deals.

Xi hosted Trump at the Great Hall of the People for the main event of the US president’s five-nation Asian tour. While the two leaders exchanged pleasantries in keeping with their professed friendship — with Trump calling Xi a "very special man" — the former property magnate made it clear that he expected China to do more to rein in North Korea.

"We must act fast. And hopefully China will act faster and more effectively on this problem than anyone," Trump said, while thanking Xi for his efforts to restrict trade with Pyongyang.

"China can fix this problem easily and quickly, and I am calling on China and your great president to hopefully work on it very hard.

"I know one thing about your president: if he works on it hard, it will happen. There’s no doubt about it."

The US administration thinks China’s economic leverage over North Korea is the key to strong-arming Pyongyang into halting its nuclear programme.

Xi said the two countries reiterated their "firm commitment" to the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and the implementation of UN resolutions.

He repeated his plea for the issue to be resolved through negotiations, saying China was ready to discuss the "pathway leading to enduring peace and stability on the peninsula".

Though China has backed UN sanctions, US officials want China to clamp down on unauthorised trade along the North Korean border. But experts doubt China will take the kind of steps that Trump wants, such as halting crude oil exports to the North. Beijing fears that squeezing Pyongyang too hard could cause the regime to collapse.

Trump, who is expected to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin this weekend in Vietnam at an Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit, also urged Russia to "help rein in this potentially very tragic situation".

Washington has made no secret of its frustration at China’s enormous trade surplus with the US, but at a signing ceremony for more than $250bn in US-Chinese deals — including $37bn worth of aircraft from Boeing — Trump said he did not blame Beijing.

"After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the sake of its citizens?" Trump blamed past US administrations "for allowing this out-of-control trade deficit to take place and to grow".

The Trump administration has aggressively pursued trade remedies in commercial relations with Beijing, investigating Chinese trade practices on intellectual property and in aluminium and steel.

"There has been some friction on bilateral trade," Xi said. "But we hope we can solve these issues in a consultative way."