Tillerson in China to pile pressure on North Korea

The visit comes as relations between the two superpowers appear to be improving after months of tensions over how to handle North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's nuclear provocations

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) shakes hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (R) before their meeting at the Great Hall of the People on September 30, 2017 in Beijing, China. REUTERS/Lintao Zhang/Pool
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US secretary of state Rex Tillerson met with China's foreign minister in Beijing on Saturday to discuss efforts to curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions and prepare president Donald Trump's November visit.

Mr Tillerson, whose arrival was delayed due to technical problems with his plane in Tokyo, was greeted by foreign minister Wang Yi at the Great Hall of the People at Tiananmen Square.

The visit comes as relations between the two superpowers appear to be improving after months of tensions over how to handle North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's nuclear provocations.

"At present, China-US relations overall have a positive momentum and have arrived at an important opportunity to progress further," Mr Wang said, adding that Mr Trump's visit would be a "major event in US-China relations".

Mr Tillerson told Mr Wang that he looked forward to an exchange "on issues important to us and in particular to begin the important work to prepare for the upcoming visit of president Trump".

They did not mention North Korea in their public remarks before reporters were ushered out, but the topic was expected to be on the agenda.

Mr Tillerson was also scheduled to meet with president Xi Jinping after talks with top diplomat Yang Jiechi.

Mr Tillerson had been due to arrive on Friday evening but his aircraft's problems forced him to travel to China on a military transport plane on Saturday.

Mr Trump has repeatedly urged Mr Xi to exert more economic pressure on Pyongyang to convince the renegade regime to give up its nuclear ambitions.

China, North Korea's main trade partner, has responded by backing a slew of new United Nations sanctions.

For its part, Beijing has insisted that the sanctions must be coupled with efforts to organise peace talks, but Mr Trump and Mr Kim have traded increasingly personal insults that have raised fears that the crisis could spark a conflict.

"There appear to be two trains of thought in the international community regarding denuclearisation of the peninsula: Crush North Korea or talk to North Korea so as to increase its sense of security. China and Russia hold the latter view," China's state-run Global Times newspaper said in an editorial.

China applies sanctions

The acting US assistant secretary of state for East Asia, Susan Thornton, told sceptical US lawmakers ahead of Mr Tillerson's trip that China appears to be on board with the plan to squeeze Pyongyang.

"We are working closely with China to execute this strategy and are clear-eyed in viewing the progress — growing, if uneven — that China has made on this front," she said.

"We have recently seen Chinese authorities take additional actions," she said, referring to new controls on the cross-border trade and finance that is North Korea's economic lifeline.

On Thursday, China said it was ordering North Korean firms on its territory to close by January.

The announcement came days after China confirmed it will limit exports of refined petroleum products to North Korea from October 1 while banning imports of textiles from its neighbour.

The measures were in accordance with UN sanctions that were approved earlier in September after North Korea detonated its sixth and most powerful nuclear bomb — a test that triggered an earthquake felt across the border in China.

Mr Trump's November trip will be part of a tour that will also take in regional allies Japan and South Korea.