US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Chinese President Xi Jinping have pledged to bolster ties between the two countries, sidestepping areas of disagreement with a public display of cooperation.
During their first meeting on Saturday in Beijing, Tillerson and Xi made no mention of other contentious issues, at least in front of reporters, including the disputes over bilateral trade, North Korea, Taiwan and the South China Sea.
Relations have also been strained by China’s strong opposition to the THAAD US missile system being installed in South Korea.
“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,” Tillerson said.
Tillerson said Trump looks forward to enhancing understanding with China and the opportunity for a visit in the future.
At least in public, Tillerson adopted a far different tone than that of his boss, US President Donald Trump, instead saying that the United States
looked forward to stronger ties with China.
But behind the scenes, diplomats and analysts said there was little doubt that Tillerson had pressed China to enforce sanctions against North Korea.
The Sino-US relations have been strained ever since Trump was elected President in November. The ties worsened even further after a phone call between Trump and the Taiwanese president in December, raising concerns that the new US administration may not honor the one-China policy.
Washington is also accused of meddling in regional issues, especially the South China Sea, where China and several of its neighbors are locked in a maritime dispute.
Before Tillerson arrived in Beijing on Saturday, he visited US allies Japan and South Korea where he declared US military action against North Korea was possible.
On Friday, Trump said North Korea was “behaving very badly” and accused China of doing little to resolve the crisis over the North’s nuclear weapons program.
However, Tillerson and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi struck a more conciliatory tone in their meeting, with Tillerson saying Washington and Beijing would work together to get nuclear-armed North Korea take “a different course.”
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) shakes hands with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi after arriving in Chinese capital of Beijing on March 18, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
The US wants China, the North’s neighbor and main trading partner, to use its influence to rein in the weapons programs.
But Chinese officials favor careful diplomacy over heated rhetoric and repeatedly say they do not have the influence over North Korea that Washington and others believe.