WASHINGTON — President Trump on Wednesday tried to make China the scapegoat for his stalled diplomacy with North Korea, accusing it of undermining the American-led pressure campaign against Pyongyang because of an escalating trade dispute with the United States.
In a series of late-afternoon tweets, issued under the headline “Statement From the White House,” Mr. Trump said China was shipping “money, fuel, fertilizer and various other commodities” to North Korea.
“This is not helpful!” he added, consistently referring to himself in the third person.
Yet at the same time, Mr. Trump reaffirmed his decision in June to suspend joint military exercises with South Korea, saying they were costly and unnecessary, given his warm relationship with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un.
While it was difficult to decipher the strategy behind the tweets, the president appeared in part to be trying to dial back remarks made by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who opened the door on Tuesday to resuming the exercises.
A Defense Department official said news reports that interpreted Mr. Mattis’s remarks as contradictory to the president’s angered the White House.
On Wednesday, Mr. Mattis issued a statement seeking to clarify his initial remarks, but both that and Mr. Trump’s tweets caused just as much confusion, since Mr. Trump pointed out that he could restart the military exercises whenever he wanted.
Indeed, despite the official-sounding imprimatur on the tweets, they were as contradictory and factually dubious as some of his most off-the-cuff remarks.
He accused China of undermining his signature diplomatic initiative while reaffirming his very strong “relationship and bond” with President Xi Jinping. He reiterated his “very good and warm” relationship with Mr. Kim, but left open the possibility of resuming military exercises — something that would antagonize the North Korean leader.
“The President can instantly start the joint exercises again with South Korea, and Japan, if he so chooses,” Mr. Trump wrote, adding, “If he does, they will be far bigger than ever before.”
The tweets came five days after the president abruptly canceled a trip to Pyongyang by his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, citing a lack of progress in negotiations for the North to relinquish its nuclear arsenal.
North Korea is pushing the United States to endorse a declaration to end the Korean War, while the White House is demanding that Pyongyang declare a full inventory of its nuclear weapons and missiles — and to set a timetable for dismantling them. Neither side has budged, and the atmosphere among officials below Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim has become increasingly sour.
Mr. Trump has long linked North Korea with China and trade. On Friday, when he called off Mr. Pompeo’s trip, he claimed that the deepening trade fight was leading China to hamper the nuclear talks.
On Wednesday, he said somewhat cryptically, “Donald J. Trump feels strongly that North Korea is under tremendous pressure from China because of our major trade disputes with the Chinese government.”
But administration officials say they do not see a link between North Korea and the trade dispute. Moreover, they say China has largely stuck to its commitments under United Nations sanctions not to trade with North Korea, though there is anecdotal evidence of increased commercial activity along the border between the North and China.
As he did with Mr. Kim, Mr. Trump struck an upbeat note about the prospects for a trade agreement with his Chinese counterpart.
“As for the U.S.-China trade disputes, and other differences, they will be resolved in time by President Trump and China’s great president Xi Jinping,” he said. “Their relationship and bond remain very strong.”
Helene Cooper contributed reporting from Washington.