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US top diplomat pledges cooperation on N. Korea

March 18, 2017

In China, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has pledged to work with the Beijing government to rein in nuclear-armed North Korea. China's foreign minister called for "cool heads."

China Ankunft US-Außenminister Rex Tillerson
Image: Reuters/M. Schiefelbein

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Saturday pledged closer cooperation with China on addressing North Korea's nuclear program in his first face-to-face talks with top Chinese diplomats.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Saturday after touching town in Beijing for the final leg of his East Asia tour.

Discussions appeared conciliatory after a week in which US President Donald Trump accused China of inaction on its rogue neighbor while Beijing blamed Washington for heightening tensions.

"I think we share a common view and a sense that tensions in the peninsula are quite high right now and that things have reached a rather dangerous level," Tillerson said following talks.

"We will work together to see if we cannot bring the government in Pyongyang to a place where they want to make a different course, make a course correction, and move away from the development of nuclear weapons."

Cool heads  

Wang appeared to chide Tillerson over his aggressive rhetoric on North Korea this week. 

"We hope all parties, including our friends from the United States, could size up the situation in a cool-headed and comprehensive fashion and arrive at a wise decision," Wang said.

Neither side outlined concrete next steps, and Tillerson did not explicitly back Beijing's calls for negotiations with North Korea, which Washington has rejected.

Hours before Tillerson's arrival in China, US President Donald Trump accused North Korea in a tweet of "behaving very badly" and said China, the North's main trading partner, "had done little to help."

He was expected to meet China's top foreign policy official Yang Jiechi later in the day, a Chinese Foreign Ministry official said. A possible sit-down with President Xi Jinping on Sunday has not yet been confirmed.

Tougher stance towards Pyongyang

Tillerson has used his first Asia tour as secretary of state to outline the Trump administration's tougher line on North Korea.

During a press conference in South Korea on Friday, Tillerson said the US policy of "strategic patience" with Pyongyang was over, telling reporters that pre-emptive military action was "on the table" if the threat from North Korea's weapons program escalates.

China has yet to respond to the comments.

North Korea conducted two nuclear test explosions and 24 ballistic missile tests last year, and experts estimate it could soon have a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the US.

Nordkorea Raketentest bei Hwasong
North Korea's neighbors are troubled by the state's continued missile activitiesImage: Reuters/KCNA

Different approach

Washington has been pressing Beijing to do more to curb its rogue neighbor's nuclear and missile programs.

Chinese officials have agreed to UN Security Council resolutions sanctioning North Korea, while at the same time calling for renewed diplomatic talks.

China has suggested that North Korea could suspend its missile activities in return for the US and South Korea halting their annual joint military drills. But Washington has rejected that proposal.

Foreign Minister Wang warned last week that the North on one side and Washington and Seoul on the other were like "two accelerating trains" headed at each other, with neither side willing to back down. Beijing has also criticized the deployment of an anti-missile system earlier this month by the US and South Korea, which it fears will affect the power balance in the region. 

Tillerson began his three-nation trip in Japan on Wednesday before flying to South Korea. 

aw,nm/jm (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)