The White House’s pick to be the No. 2 official at the State Department assured Congress Tuesday that U.S.-Sino relations were on a positive track, despite Washington and Beijing remaining at odds over dealing with North Korea.
John Sullivan, a former George W. Bush-era appointee and President Trump’s pick for Deputy Secretary of State, sought to ease lawmakers’ concerns over the seemingly disjointed approach being taken by the department toward China’s support for North Korea.
“There does not seem to be unanimous agreement” within President Trump’s foreign policy team, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, in regards to Beijing or Pyongyang, New Hampshire Democrat Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said during Mr. Sullivan’s confirmation hearing.
During the campaign, then candidate Trump took an aggressive line towards North Korea and China, threatening to label the latter as a currency manipulator. But as tensions continue to rise between Washington and Pyongyang, President Trump has taken a more conciliatory tone toward China.
In response, China took the surprising step of abstaining from, rather than vetoing, a U.N. Security Council vote on U.S.-backed sanctions against Syria in response to their use of chemical weapons in April. That move by Beijing has provided “some basis for optimism” inside the White House that China can be a reliable ally on North Korea.
“There has been some positive feedback from the Chinese [on North Korea], giving us hope” that Beijing will be able to curb the nuclear ambitions of its client state.
But Sen. Cory Gardner pressed Mr. Sullivan on that assertion during Tuesday’s hearing, noting that Chinese exports to North Korea and imports from the country into China continue to grow steadily. The State Department “cannot allow China to backslide” into its previous posture of turning a blind eye toward the threat posed by Pyongyang, the Colorado Republican said.
Prior to his nomination, Mr. Sullivan held senior positions at the Pentagon, Justice and Commerce Department before becoming the deputy Secretary of Commerce in 2007.
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