Rex Tillerson calls for increased cooperation with China to combat 'dangerous tensions' with North Korea

Lizzie Dearden
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at a joint press conference in Beijing, China: Getty

The US Secretary of State has warned of “dangerous levels” of tension with North Korea during his first visit to Beijing.

Rex Tillerson said the Trump administration and Chinese government were committed to “doing everything we can to prevent any type of conflict from breaking out”.

“We share a common view and a sense that tensions on the peninsula are quite high and that things have reached a rather dangerous level,” he added during a press conference with China’s foreign minister.

“There are a number of steps that we can take… to see if we cannot bring the government in Pyongyang to a place where they want to make a course correction and move away from their development of nuclear weapons.”

His comments came after Donald Trump accused North Korea of “behaving very badly” in a tweet that also took aim at China, a key ally of Pyongyang and one of the only countries to maintain diplomatic relations with its isolated government.

“North Korea is behaving very badly,” the President wrote. “They have been ‘playing’ the United States for years. China has done little to help!”

Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, urged the US to remain “cool-headed” and defended his government’s position, saying all international parties should seek diplomatic solutions while implementing UN sanctions against Kim Jong-un’s regime.

“We hope that 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,” he added.

Last week, Mr Wang warned that North Korea on one side, and the US and South Korea on the other, were like “two accelerating trains” heading towards each other, with neither side willing to give way.

He proposed an agreement where North Korea would suspend its weapons development in exchange for a halt in joint US-South Korean military drills, but it was swiftly dismissed by Mr Trump’s ambassador to the UN.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (R) shakes hands with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson after a joint press conference in Beijing, China (Getty)

Mr Tillerson, who previously criticised China over its expansion in the South China Sea, pushed for closer Chinese-US co-operation in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear programme in his first face-to-face talks with senior diplomats in Beijing.

He stressed the need for a “results-oriented” relationship with China, adding: “We renewed our determination to work together to convince North Korea to choose a better path and a different future for its people.”

Mr Tillerson later met Yang Jiechi, Xi Jinping’s leading foreign policy adviser, and was scheduled to meet the Chinese President on Sunday morning before returning to the US.

Tensions have worsened following a series of ballistic missile tests by North Korea as it attempts to miniaturise a nuclear warhead able to be mounted on an inter-continental missile.

Advances have alarmed South Korea, sparking the deployment of the US’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defence System (Thaad).

China and Russia have accused the US of exacerbating tensions with the anti-missile system, which they say goes far beyond the capability needed for defence.

The Korean Central News Agency, the state media outlet for North Korea, also hit out at military drills and said the manoeuvres “only precipitate the US’ final ruin”.

“The US would be well advised to bear in mind that the army of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] has shifted the mode of its military counteraction to that of pre-emptive strike to cope with the former’s moves for a nuclear war,” said an article published on Saturday.

“Once even a single shell is fired into the inviolable territory, waters and sky where the sovereignty of the DPRK is exercised, its Juche-oriented weapons will reduce the bases of aggression and provocation to such debris that no living thing can be found. This is not hot air.

“No mercy will be shown for those who infringe upon the sovereignty and dignity of the DPRK even a bit.”

Mr Tillerson travelled to Beijing from South Korea, where he warned on Friday that pre-emptive military action against North Korea might be necessary if the threat from its weapons programme reaches a level “that we believe requires action”.

As North Korea’s most important source of diplomatic support and economic assistance, China has grown increasingly concerned about the possibility of conflict on the Korean peninsula.

Mr Tillerson’s visit came ahead of a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Mr Trump, which is expected to take place later next month.

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