This post was written by Connor Balough
Washington and Beijing are in talks about a Trump visit to build ties with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Both the State Department and the Chinese embassy said State Councilor Yang Jiechi, China’s top foreign affairs official, had had a successful visit when he came to Washington DC to meet with the President.
He was greeted by Trump March 1st after talks with senior White House officials and sat down with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Two weeks later, Rex Tillerson made a visit of his own to meet with the Foreign Minister of China, Wang Yi.
“We renewed our determination to work together to convince North Korea to choose a better path and a different future for its people,” Tillerson said.
He said Wang agreed on the need for a “course correction” with Pyongyang. Bringing North Korea “to a different place” is a matter to be approached with “a sense of urgency,” Tillerson said.
Wang restated Beijing’s calls for dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea and called Tillerson’s visit an important step toward a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his U.S. counterpart, President Trump, expected next month.
Tillerson met later with Yang Jiechi, Xi’s top foreign policy adviser. He is scheduled to meet with Xi on Sunday morning before returning to the U.S.
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.
Wang warned last week that North Korea on one side, and the U.S. and South Korea on the other, were like “two accelerating trains” headed at each other, with neither side willing to give way.
He floated a proposal that North Korea could suspend its nuclear and missile activities in exchange for a halt in joint U.S.-South Korea military drills. That was swiftly shot down by the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, who said Washington has to see “some sort of positive action” from North Korea before it can take leader Kim Jong Un seriously.
While China has agreed reluctantly to U.N. Security Council resolutions sanctioning North Korea, it is adamantly opposed to measures that might bring about a collapse of the North Korean regime and send waves of refugees into northeastern China while South Korean and American forces take up positions on its border.
That’s left Beijing with few options other than to call for renewed dialogue under the Beijing-sponsored six-nation format that broke down in 2009.
In a further sign of its frustration with Pyongyang, China last month banned imports of North Korean coal for the rest of the year, potentially depriving Kim’s regime of a key source of foreign currency.
On Friday, Tillerson signaled a tougher strategy toward North Korea that leaves open the possibility of pre-emptive military action.
“Let me be very clear: The policy of strategic patience has ended,” he said after visiting the heavily militarized border between the rival Koreas. “We are exploring a new range of diplomatic, security and economic measures. All options are on the table.”
Past U.S. administrations have considered military force because of North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to deliver them, but rarely has that option been expressed so explicitly as by Tillerson.
North Korea has accelerated its weapons development, violating multiple Security Council resolutions without being deterred by sanctions. The North conducted two nuclear test explosions and 24 ballistic missile tests last year. Experts say it could have a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the U.S. within a few years.
China has stridently opposed the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system to South Korea, saying its X-band radar can peer deep into China to monitor flights and rocket launches. The U.S. says it’s a system focused purely on North Korea and poses no threat to the security of other nations.