From Twitter threats to Tomahawk missiles, US president Donald Trump's unorthodox and seemingly impulsive approach to foreign policy has unsettled China, piling new pressure on its hands-off North Korea policy.
As tensions rise on the Korean peninsula, Beijing appears alarmed by Trump's strident pronouncements as it tries to figure out how to manage the billionaire politician, who insists China handle the Pyongyang problem or suffer the consequences.
"President Trump's penchant for an unpredictable foreign policy does not sit well with Beijing, which calibrates its approach based on careful assumptions of US consistency," said Tiffany Ma of the DC-based National Bureau of Asian Research.
Trump's missile barrage on Syria last week and decision to drop the largest non-nuclear bomb ever deployed in combat on Afghanistan Thursday revealed his willingness to shake up strategy and conveyed an implicit warning that he is not afraid to use force.
"North Korea is a problem, the problem will be taken care of," Trump said after the "Mother of All Bombs" was dropped, amid reports of activity at a North Korean nuclear test site ahead of Saturday's 105th anniversary of the birth of the country's founder.
Beijing has long opposed dramatic action against Pyongyang, fearing the regime's collapse would send a flood of refugees across its borders and leave the US military on its doorstep.
But "the US has run out of patience," analyst Ma said.
Trump tweeted Tuesday that "if China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them!"
The stick was accompanied by a carrot, with Trump noting "I explained to the President of China that a trade deal with the U.S. will be far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem!"
The next day, Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke with Trump on the phone, calling for calm as a US Navy aircraft carrier-led strike group headed to the region in an unmistakable gesture.
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