March 19, 2017 2:04 am JST

Tillerson agrees with China tensions over N. Korea now very high

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks during a joint news conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing on March 18. © Reuters

BEIJING (Kyodo) -- U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Saturday he agreed with China that tensions over North Korea are now very high, although sharp differences remain between Washington and Beijing over how best to rein in an increasingly aggressive and unpredictable Pyongyang.

 "We share a common view and a sense that tensions on the (Korean) peninsula are quite high right now," Tillerson told a press conference in Beijing after holding talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. "Things have reached a rather dangerous level."

 "We committed ourselves to doing everything we can to prevent any type of conflict from breaking out," Tillerson said.

 Wang said he agreed with Tillerson to "step up our communication and cooperation" in trying to peacefully resolve the North Korean nuclear issue, and to that end he pointed out that engaging in diplomacy will be of utmost importance.

 However, on the eve of Tillerson's first visit to China since taking office last month, U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter: "North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been 'playing' the United States for years. China has done little to help!"

 Trump's latest message, along with what Tillerson said in Tokyo and Seoul this week before coming to Beijing, is almost certain to be offensive in the eyes of Chinese officials, who have for a long time insisted that the crux of the North Korean nuclear issue is a dispute between Washington and Pyongyang.

 While urging China to play a bigger role in persuading North Korea to change course, Tillerson has concluded that U.S. policy toward the reclusive country over the past two decades was a failure, highlighting the urgent need of taking a "different approach."

 His three-nation tour of Asia is aimed at getting hints about how Trump's administration should deal with North Korea, which conducted two nuclear explosions and test-fired more than 20 ballistic missiles last year alone, in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

 Last week, North Korea launched four ballistic missiles almost simultaneously, with one of them landing in waters around 200 kilometers off Japan's coast.

 Tillerson said Friday that all options, including military action, are on the table if North Korea continues to pose threats to its security allies and U.S. forces.

 "Let me be very clear, the policy of strategic patience has ended," Tillerson, a former Exxon Mobil Corp. chief executive with no prior diplomatic experience, told a joint press conference with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se in Seoul.

 China's Wang, meanwhile, proposed last week that North Korea suspend its nuclear and missile activities in return for the United States discontinuing its military exercises with South Korea.

 But the United States has already rejected Wang's proposal of the so-called "double suspension."

 While the U.S. administration puts more pressure on China to make greater use of its leverage over North Korea to compel Pyongyang to halt its arms programs, the purpose of Tillerson's visit to Beijing is also to lay the groundwork for the first face-to-face meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, possibly early next month.

 Wang said China and the United States are "communicating closely" on the forthcoming talks between the two presidents.

 "Your visit is an important step forward in this process," Wang said at the outset of the meeting with Tillerson, who later separately held talks with State Councilor Yang Jiechi, China's top diplomat.

 Tillerson is scheduled to meet with Xi on Sunday.

 In addition to seeking coordination on North Korea and the first Xi-Trump meeting, Tillerson and Wang said they discussed a range of thorny bilateral and regional issues, including the South China Sea, the Japan-controlled, China-claimed Senkaku islets, and South Korea's plan to deploy an advanced U.S. missile defense system.

 At the joint press conference, Wang suggested that China remains firm on the issues of Taiwan, the Senkaku islands in the East China Sea, which Beijing calls Diaoyu, and deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD.

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