Xi, Tillerson seek stronger ties as N Korea hails rocket progress
Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pledged in talks on March 19 to work to strengthen a relationship strained by disputes over North Korea and trade.
Xi met Tillerson in Beijing just hours after nuclear-armed North Korea tested the U.S.-China relationship anew by announcing a provocative rocket engine trial, and with delicate negotiations under way for a Xi summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.
Xi told Tillerson that he and Trump had resolved in a phone call last month “to make joint efforts to advance China-U.S. cooperation, and we believe that we can make sure the relationship will move ahead in a constructive fashion in the new era.”
“I’m confident that as long as we can do this the relationship can surely move in the right direction,” Xi said.
En route to Beijing, Tillerson visited U.S. allies Japan and South Korea where he declared Washington would drop the “failed” approach of “strategic patience” with Pyongyang - adding that U.S. military action against the North was possible.
That marked a sharp break with China, which favors careful diplomacy over heated rhetoric.
Relations have also been strained by China’s fierce opposition to a U.S. missile defense system being rolled out in South Korea and Trump’s Twitter accusation on March 17 that China was not doing enough to control Pyongyang, its neighbor and historic ally.
Trump has also repeatedly accused China of unfair trade practices.
But Tillerson has made nice while in Beijing.
“We know that through further dialogue we will achieve a greater understanding that will lead to a ... strengthening of the ties between China and the United States and set the tone for our future relationship of cooperation,” he told Xi.
Earlier on March 19 North Korean state media said the isolated regime had tested a powerful engine hailed by leader Kim Jong-Un as a “new birth” for its rocket industry, which experts view as cover for developing intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The announcement’s timing appeared intended to sour Tillerson’s China visit.
On March 18 Tillerson said after talks with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi that tensions on the Korean peninsula had reached a “dangerous level.”
Tillerson and Wang pledged to work together to denuclearize Kim’s rogue regime, but offered no clear way forward.
Wang, however, chided Tillerson over his recent tough talk, saying “we hope all parties, including our friends from the United States, can size up the situation in a cool-headed” fashion.
It was not clear whether Xi and Tillerson discussed North Korea.
The North’s state news agency KCNA said Kim oversaw the rocket engine test and “emphasized that the whole world will soon witness what eventful significance the great victory won today carries” - a possible veiled warning to Pyongyang’s adversaries.
Ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun splashed photos across its front page showing a beaming, baton-wielding Kim looking on as flames roared out of the engine.
State TV also showed Kim meeting soldiers and scientists at the site and hugging and giving a piggy-back to an aged soldier who appeared to be bursting into tears in joy.
KCNA said the new engine could be used to launch satellites, but rockets are easily repurposed to carry warheads.
North Korea is banned by the international community from pursuing nuclear and missile programs but has defiantly ploughed ahead.
It staged its two latest nuclear tests last year and recently fired off missiles which it described as practice for an attack on U.S. bases in Japan.
Kim said the successful engine test signified “a new birth” of North Korea’s rocket industry.