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Rex Tillerson’s visit will be his second to China as US Secretary of State. Photo: AP

US Secretary of State Tillerson to visit China for talks over North Korean nuclear crisis

Visit will also include trade talks and help prepare ground for Donald Trump’s visit to Beijing later this year

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will visit China this week for talks that will include the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes and trade.

Tillerson’s trip, starting on Thursday and ending on Saturday, will also lay the groundwork for US President Donald Trump’s visit to China in November, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Tuesday.

Tillerson’s visit comes at a time of high tension between the United States and North Korea, which is working to develop nuclear-armed missiles capable of reaching the US mainland.

Su Hao, a professor from China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing, said the issue would be Tillerson’s top priority.

“As the situation has changed so much from when the two presidents last met in April and the risk of war has risen significantly, China and the US have to have a consensus on the solution – whether it involves force or peaceful means. And also, if there is an emergency, how to deal with it,” he said.

“Beijing wants very much to guarantee and stabilise China-US relations for the rest of the Trump term.”

Su said Tillerson would also learn about the upcoming Communist Party congress to be held next month, which will see a reshuffle of the party leadership.

Trump warned North Korea on Tuesday that any US military action against North Korea would be “devastating” for Pyongyang, but said the use of force was not Washington’s first option. China, which shares a border with North Korea, has urged a return to dialogue.

Nauert called China’s efforts to implement tougher UN sanctions on North Korea after its recent missile and nuclear tests “significant.”

“We have a good relationship with China,” she told a regular news briefing, adding that this was proved by what would be Tillerson’s second visit to China during nine months in office.

“China has taken enormous steps in the right direction. There is always more that countries can do, but at this point we want to thank China for the steps it has taken in the right direction.”

While backing UN sanctions, China, North Korea’s main trading partner, opposes unilateral US measures and has been worried Washington might move to freeze its banks out of the global financial system unless they cut all ties to Pyongyang.

On Tuesday, the US Treasury announced sanctions against 26 more individuals as part of its non-proliferation designations for North Korea, as well as nine North Korean banks, including some with ties to China.

Tillerson’s visit to Beijing will follow that of US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who said on Monday that China needed to guarantee fair and reciprocal treatment for American firms, as he tried to strike an upbeat tone amid bilateral trade tensions.

China-US ties have been strained by Trump’s criticism of China’s trade practices and by demands that Beijing do more on North Korea.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Trump met for the first time at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida in April. Trump has since played up his personal relationship with Xi, even while criticising China over North Korea and trade.

In August, Trump authorised an inquiry into China’s alleged theft of intellectual property – his first direct trade measure against Beijing. China described the move as “irresponsible.”