Donald Trump arrived in Beijing Wednesday, his first visit as U.S. President to a nation that has been a focus, often a negative one, in his drive to secure jobs at home. Trade is to top the agenda, but so is North Korea. White House officials say the president intends to press China - North Korea's closest ally and top trading partner - to push the North to abandon its nuclear program, the topic of a speech he gave in Seoul just hours before arriving in Beijing.
In that speech to South Korea's National Assembly, President Trump had a forceful message for Pyongyang, calling on leader Kim Jong Un to give up all his nuclear weapons for a chance to step on to “a better path.”
WATCH : Trump on Kim Jong Un
Trump warned the North, “Do not underestimate us and do not try us. We will defend our common security, our shared prosperity and our sacred liberty.”
Backing the president's words was the presence of three U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups and nuclear submarines, which the president said "are appropriately positioned" near the Korean peninsula.
The U.S president referred to North Korea as "a total failure," and a "twisted regime" ruled by a cult and a tyrant who enslaves his people – a characterization certain to provoke a harsh rhetorical reply from Pyongyang.
"The world cannot tolerate the menace of a rogue regime that threatens it with nuclear devastation," said Trump in his speech. "All responsible nations must join forces to isolate the brutal regime of North Korea – to deny it any form of support."
The U.S. leader had effusive praise for South Korea, contrasting its economic success with the dark situation in the North.
"The more successful South Korea becomes, the more decisively you discredit the dark fantasy at the heart of the Kim regime," said the U.S. president.
The speech ended on a hopeful note, which is the Korean dream: the peaceful reunification of the peninsula. But with Kim’s weapons of mass destruction posing a greater threat, Trump warned, "the longer we wait, the greater the danger grows and the few the options become."
President Trump generally took a more optimistic view of diplomacy during his visit to Seoul, which included meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. He said progress has been made to diffuse heightened tensions in the region, a striking departure from the tone of his tweets in recent weeks suggesting talks with Pyongyang to resolve the nuclear crisis were "a waste of time."
Speaking on Air Force One on the approach to Beijing Wednesday, a senior White House official said President Trump and the South Korean leader had reaffirmed their commitment for a coordinated global pressure campaign to bring North Korea back to "authentic denuclearization talks," while also remaining committed to use a "full range of military capabilities" to defend South Korea and Japan.
"Authentic" talks, the U.S. official said, would be without preconditions and would entail North Korea agreeing to "reduce the threat, end provocations, and move toward sincere steps to ultimately denuclearize." Preconditions like refusing to put nuclear weapons on the table, the official said, "is a non-starter" for the United States. The U.S. also maintains that any agreement would need to include verification of denuclearization efforts - a key sticking point in multi-nation negotiations that have been attempted in the past.
The White House official said President Trump would call on Chinese President Xi Jinping to pressure North Korea by, among other things, closing loopholes that have facilitated continued trade between China and North Korea despite U.N. sanctions.
In a statement issued separately, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Trump would also make a determination on whether the United States will designate North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism before the end of his visit to China.
In addition to the North Korea nuclear crisis, Trump will also press his Chinese hosts on that nation's massive trade surplus with the U.S. In a separate development, negotiators for both countries signed up to 20 deals worth $9 billion. Details of the agreements were not revealed, but Reuters news agency says they include a pledge by Chinese eCommerce company JD.com to buy more than $2 billion of food products from the U.S. over three years.
The President and First Lady Melania Trump started their visit to the Chinese capital with a stop at Beijing's Forbidden City, the palace complex of China's past emperors, where they joined President Xi for a look at the restoration of ancient relics.It is likely President Trump will continue to send out Tweets in China, despite a Chinese block on Twitter. Thanks to communications gear aboard Air Force One, the official said "The President will Tweet whatever he wants."