With warm words from Chinese President Xi Jinping Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ended his first trip to Asia since taking office with an agreement to work with China on North Korea. They put aside trickier issues.
China has been irritated at being repeatedly told by Washington to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and the U.S. decision to base an advanced missile defense system in South Korea.
WATCH: US Looks for New Way Forward on North Korea
Beijing is also deeply suspicious of U.S. intentions toward self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its own, with the Trump administration crafting a big new arms package for the island that is bound to anger China.
Words of praise
But meeting in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, those issues were brushed aside by Xi and Tillerson, at least in front of reporters, with Xi saying Tillerson had made a lot of effort to achieve a smooth transition in a new era of relations.
“You said that China-U.S. relations can only be friendly. I express my appreciation for this,” Xi said.
Xi said he had communicated with President Donald Trump several times through telephone conversations and messages.
“We both believe that China-U.S. cooperation henceforth is the direction we are both striving for. We are both expecting a new era for constructive development,” Xi said.
“The joint interests of China and the United States far outweigh the differences, and cooperation is the only correct choice for us both,” Xi added, in comments carried by China’s Foreign Ministry.
China and the United States must strengthen coordination of hot regional issues, respect each other’s core interests and major concerns, and protect the broad stability of ties, Xi said.
Tillerson replied that Trump places a “very high value on the communications that have already occurred” between Xi and Trump.
“And he looks forward to enhancing that understanding in the opportunity for a visit in the future,” Tillerson said.
“We know that through further dialogue we will achieve a greater understanding that will lead to a strengthened, strengthening of the ties between China and the United States and set the tone for our future relationship of cooperation.”
Trump has so far been an unpredictable partner for China, attacking Beijing on issues from trade to the South China Sea and in December by talking to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen.
Before Tillerson arrived in Beijing on Saturday, Trump said North Korea was “behaving very badly” and accused China of doing little to resolve the crisis over the North’s weapons programs.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stands with U.S. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks (third right) and South Korean Deputy Commander of the Combined Force Command Gen. Leem Ho-young (third left) as North Korean soldiers look at the south side at the border village of Panmunjom, which has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War, March 17, 2017.
On North Korea
Both Tillerson and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi struck a more conciliatory tone in their meeting, with Tillerson saying the United States and China would work together to get nuclear-armed North Korea take “a different course.”
Underscoring the tensions, North Korea conducted a test of a new high-thrust engine at its Tongchang-ri rocket launch station and leader Kim Jong Un said the successful test was “a new birth” of its rocket industry, Pyongyang’s official media said on Sunday.
Washington wants China, the North’s neighbor and main trading partner, to use its influence to rein in the weapons programs.
China says it is committed to enforcing U.N. sanctions on North Korea, but all sides have a responsibility to lessen tensions and get back to the negotiating table.
Chinese official also repeatedly say they do not have the influence over North Korea that Washington and others believe, and express fears poverty-struck North Korea could collapse if it were cut off completely, pushing destabilizing waves of refugees into northeastern China.