Did a Chinese ship deliver oil to North Korea in defiance of the U.N. Security Council? President Donald Trump and South Korea seem to think so. China does not.
Hours after Trump accused China on Thursday of being caught "red handed" selling oil to the North Koreans — in apparent violation of U.N. sanctions — South Korea released information that appeared to support his claim.
South Korean authorities said Friday that on Nov. 24 they seized and inspected a Hong Kong-flagged vessel that on Oct. 19 transferred 600 tons of refined petroleum to a North Korean vessel.
But at a daily press briefing in Beijing, a spokesperson for China's foreign ministry flatly dismissed the claim, saying media accounts "did not accord with the facts."
"China has always implemented U.N. Security Council resolutions pertaining to North Korea in their entirety and fulfills its international obligations," said the spokeswoman, Hua Chunying.
"We never allow Chinese companies and citizens to violate the resolutions," she said.
The standoff underscores Trump's frustration at his attempts to press China to tighten economic pressures on North Korea as part of global efforts to curb the North's nuclear and missile programs.
China is the economic lifeline for the regime of Kim Jong Un and Beijing is under close international security for gaps in the sanctions.
China also appears angry at being unceremoniously called out by Trump — a rift that could shape the year ahead.
Since Trump took office, the U.S. and China have backed successive rounds of U.N. sanctions aimed at curbing North Korea's weapons program. But Kim has continued to conduct tests, including tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Trump has responded by periodically — and often very publicly — urging China to do more.
On Thursday, he did it again. "Caught RED HANDED," he tweeted, "Very disappointed that China is allowing oil to go into North Korea. There will never be a friendly solution to the North Korea problem if this continues to happen!".
He then posted a clip of himself talking about North Korea's nuclear program in a television interview that aired 18 years ago.
Trump's ire will not go down well in Beijing, which feels unfairly singled out by foreign critics, including Trump.
On Wednesday, when Hua, the foreign ministry spokesperson, was asked about South Korean claims of a ship-to-ship oil transfer, she turned the tables on the media by claiming they did not have their facts straight.
The People's Daily, a Communist Party-controlled newspaper, followed up with a detailed account of her response, noting that she "hit back at the speculation with eight questions to drive home the point that the conclusion is based on speculation and not facts."
The headline: "China tells foreign media to stop it with the wild speculation."