The US and China will work together to get nuclear-armed North Korea to take a “different course”.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the announcement after talks with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing.
The two sides appeared to have made some progress or put aside differences on difficult issues ahead of a planned summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump.
Secretary Tillerson arrives in Beijing; U.S. looks to build constructive, results-oriented relationship with China. pic.twitter.com/9Qa2UyWnZx— Department of State (@StateDept) 18 mars 2017
Bones of contention
Washington has been pressing Beijing to do more to stop North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.
China has called for a dual track approach, urging North Korea to suspend its tests and the US and South Korea to suspend military drills so both sides can return to talks.
China has also been infuriated by the deployment of the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missile defence system in South Korea. Beijing says this will harm both China’s own security and do nothing to ease tensions.
The Trump administration is crafting a new arms package for the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which China claims as its own.
Officials say it includes advanced rocket systems and anti-ship missiles to defend against China, which is sure to anger Beijing.
What the US says
On Friday, Tillerson issued the Trump administration’s starkest warning yet to North Korea.
He said in Seoul that a military response would be “on the table” if Pyongyang took action to threaten South Korean and US forces.
Tillerson took a softer line after the meeting with Wang. He told reporters both China and the US noted efforts over the last two decades had not succeeded in curbing the threat posed by North Korea’s weapons programmes.
“We share a common view and a sense that tensions on the rise on the peninsula are quite high right now and that things have reached a rather dangerous level, and we have committed ourselves to doing everything we can to prevent any type of conflict from breaking out,” Tillerson said.
He said Wang and he agreed to work together to persuade North Korea “make a course connection and move away from the development of their nuclear weapons.”
Tillerson also said that any talks on North Korea could only take place after it began the process of unwinding the weapons programmes.
Sec. Tillerson: Look forward to spirit of cooperation between our two countries & opportunities of mutual interest. https://t.co/jQCGgK1IrM pic.twitter.com/qH9GRLfDH6— Department of State (@StateDept) 18 mars 2017
China has been irritated at being repeatedly told by Washington to rein-in North Korea’s surging nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.
Pyongyang has carried out two nuclear tests and a series of missile launches since the beginning of last year.
Last week, it launched four more ballistic missiles and is working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles that could reach the US.
What China says
China’s foreign minister described the talks with Tillerson as “candid, pragmatic and productive”.
Wang Yi said UN resolutions on North Korea both mapped out sanctions and called for efforts to resume for a negotiated settlement.
“No matter what happens, we have to stay committed to diplomatic means as a way to seek peaceful settlement,” Wang said.
Wang said he and Tillerson “both hope to find ways to restart the talks. Neither of us are ready to give up the hope for peace.”
Wang also said Saturday’s talks included discussions on THAAD and Taiwan but did not give details.
Chinese FM Wang Yi, US counterpart Rex Tillerson exchanged views about #China-#US relations and regional security in Beijing on Sat pic.twitter.com/lp8Ou5M5bR— People’s Daily,China (@PDChina) 18 mars 2017
The two sides appear to have toned down differences as they work on finalising a trip by Xi Jinping to the US, possibly next month, for his first summit with Donald Trump.
Wang said the two countries were in “close communication” on arranging the meeting but gave no details.
A former oil executive with no prior diplomatic experience, Tillerson will meet Xi on Sunday.