Tillerson arrives in China for tough talks on North Korea

The visit comes at a time when US military action against North Korea is ‘on the table.’

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (R) shakes hands with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse on March 18, 2017 in Beijing, China.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in China on Saturday with North Korea high on the agenda as Washington’s patience with Pyongyang over its nuclear ambitions seems to be running out.

The Trump administration has used Tillerson's Asia tour to break with years of strategic patience over North Korea.

In Seoul on Friday, Tillerson said military action by the US against North Korea was "on the table" if threats from the rogue regime escalate.

The sea change in US policy follows two North Korean nuclear tests last year and missile launches including a salvo earlier this month that Pyongyang described as a drill for an attack on US bases in Japan.

China, however, is deeply wary of the new US tack towards its volatile neighbour.

It called last week for North Korea, the United States and its ally South Korea to take steps to defuse tensions in hopes of re-starting diplomatic efforts to dismantle Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes.

After a meeting with Tillerson, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said he held "candid, pragmatic and productive" talks, which included North Korea, Taiwan and bilateral trade.

Tillerson said both sides renewed their determination to convince North Korea, which has a fast-developing nuclear and ballistic missile programme, to choose a better path.

TRT World's Dan Epstein reports from Beijing.

Trump criticises China

On Friday, President Donald Trump accused China of foot-dragging in a Twitter post.

"North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been 'playing' the United States for years. China has done little to help!" he said.

Beijing shares US concerns over Pyongyang's nuclearisation, but also fears squeezing its economically backward neighbour too hard, lest it provoke a messy regime collapse.

China insisted on Thursday its latest proposal — for North Korea to suspend nuclear and missile activities in return for the US and South Korea halting military exercises that rile Pyongyang — was the "only feasible plan." 

"If the US or another country has a better plan, a better proposal, they can bring it out," a foreign ministry spokesperson said.

TRT World spoke to David Zweig, who is a professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, on the significance of Tillerson's visit. 

TRTWorld and agencies