US-China relations

US in contact with North Korea and ready to talk, Tillerson says

Washington has ‘lines of communication to Pyongyang’, secretary of state says after meeting President Xi Jinping in Beijing

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 September, 2017, 10:24pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 October, 2017, 1:04am

The United States has direct communication channels with North Korea and is investigating whether the regime is ready to enter talks on giving up its nuclear weapons programme, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Saturday.

Tillerson made the remarks after meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping, as officials from the two sides stepped up preparations for US President Donald Trump’s visit to Beijing in November.

Xi called on China and the United States to strengthen coordination on major global issues and to respect each other’s core interests. His remarks to Tillerson, reported by state media, made no mention of North Korea.

The two nations have disagreements over the handling of North Korea, with Washington calling on Beijing to put more pressure on Pyongyang, while Beijing says the crisis should be resolved through dialogue.

Tillerson said the US was investigating whether North Korea was interested in dialogue and it had multiple direct channels of communication with Pyongyang.

“We are probing, so stay tuned,” Tillerson told reporters. “We ask: Would you like to talk? We have lines of communication to Pyongyang. We’re not in a dark situation.”

Asked whether China was acting as a go-between for that contact, Tillerson said: “Our own channels.”

US and China prepare for shift in relations in build-up to Trump’s visit to Beijing

Tillerson’s trip is part of a flurry of diplomatic activity ahead of Trump’s visit. It comes after US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross visited Beijing to discuss trade issues and Chinese Vice-Premier Liu Yandong’s trip to the US for a social and cultural dialogue.

Xi said China held Trump’s visit in high regard, and he called on both sides to boost cooperation.

“Both sides need to properly resolve their conflicts and sensitive issues through dialogue and consultation on the basis of mutual respect of their core interests and major concerns,” Xi said.

Greeting Tillerson at the Great Hall of the People, Xi recalled speaking to Trump by phone several times and meeting him at the US leader’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida in April as well as at the G20 summit in Hamburg in July.

“I have enjoyed each and every one of those engagements and we have made considerable efforts to push for the development of China-US relations,” Xi said in his opening remarks.

“The two of us have also maintained a good working relationship and personal friendship.”

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State Councillor Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi also met Tillerson and his delegation for separate talks.

“We’re seeing very positive momentum in China-US relations overall and we have arrived at an important opportunity to make further progress,” Wang said.

Tillerson’s visit – his second trip to Beijing as secretary of state – came as the White House confirmed on Friday that Trump will travel to Asia from November 3 to 14. It said the trip would show Trump’s “continued commitment to America’s alliance in Asia” and seek a common front to “confront the North Korean threat and ensure the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”.

North Korea is expected to dominate Trump’s agenda in Asia as the isolated regime presses ahead with its nuclear programme. It tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that could potentially reach the US in July and conducted its sixth nuclear test in early September.

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Su Hao, a professor with the China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing, said China and the US were trying to contain their differences and find common ground in an effort to build positive momentum for Trump’s visit.

Pang Zhongying, an international relations professor at Ocean University in Qingdao, said China’s role and leverage over North Korea would be reduced if the US and North Korea engaged in talks. “That leverage might be further diminished if the US could accept a nuclear-armed North Korea,” he said.

Additional reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Presse