Tillerson to face China’s ire over North Korean tensions

© Reuters. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talks to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi when he arrives for a bilateral meeting at the Diaoyutai State Pension in Beijing.

By Ben Blanchard and Yeganeh Torbati

BEIJING (Reuters) – US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in China on Saturday for what will likely be a thorny visit, with Beijing angry that he was told to control North Korea with nuclear weapons and Washington repeatedly demanding that it do more to control Pyongyang. .

China is also expected to express strong opposition to this month’s deployment of a sophisticated US missile defense system in South Korea.

Tillerson issued the Trump administration’s starkest warning yet to North Korea on Friday, saying that a military response would be “on the table” if Pyongyang took action to threaten the forces of South Korea and the United States.

He was speaking in South Korea, the second leg of his first visit to Asia since taking office. He was previously in Japan.

In Beijing, the possibility of imposing “secondary sanctions” on Chinese banks and other companies doing business with North Korea may be raised in defiance of the sanctions, a US official told Reuters in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity.

US President Donald Trump said in a tweet on Friday that North Korea was “misbehaving” and accused China, Pyongyang’s neighbor and only major ally, of doing little to resolve the crisis over programs. of arms of the North.

The Chinese state tabloid Global Times said on Saturday that it was in China’s interest to stop North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, but to suggest that China completely isolate the country was ridiculous, as it would be fraught with danger.

“Once there is chaos in North Korea, it will first bring disaster to China. Sorry, but the United States and South Korea have no right to demand this from China,” he said in an editorial.

By not accepting China’s suggestion that the United States and South Korea should halt the military exercises in exchange for North Korea stopping its testing and then all parties returning to talks, Washington displayed a level of inflexibility that was “really disappointing, “he added.

The official Xinhua news agency pointed to Tillerson’s comments in Seoul that military options against Pyongyang were on the table.

“However, there is nothing new in this approach. These same tactics were once used by Trump’s predecessor, George W. Bush, and they failed,” he said.

Tillerson however, is also expected to sign up for a trip by Chinese President Xi Jinping to the United States next month for his first summit with Trump, and may choose to tone down the differences between the more economies. world’s great, at least for now.

XI SUNDAY MEETING

Tillerson, a former oil executive with no prior diplomatic experience, will meet with China’s two top diplomats on Saturday and with Xi on Sunday.

On Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying reiterated that the talks were the best way to solve the problems on the Korean peninsula.

“As a close neighbor to the peninsula, China has more reason than any other country to be concerned about the situation,” he said in a briefing.

North Korea has carried out two nuclear tests and a series of missile launches since early last year.

Last week, it launched four more ballistic missiles and is working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the United States.

Washington has been pressuring Beijing to do more to stop North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

China has called for a two-track approach, urging North Korea to suspend its tests and the United States and South Korea to suspend military exercises, so that both sides can return to talks.

Beijing has been irritated by suggestions that it has not been doing enough, and the official People’s Daily on Friday denounced what it said was Washington and Seoul’s “blind cult” of sanctions and pressure.

“There has been a narrative in the West that suggests that China holds the key to North Korea’s nuclear problem. That is a misstatement,” said Wang Dong, an associate professor of elite international studies at Peking University of China.

“The bottom line is that the DPRK is not a puppet regime. We do not control them, and we have strongly opposed North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons from the beginning,” he said, referring to North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People. . Republic of Korea.

China has also been enraged by the deployment of the THAAD, or Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, missile defense system in South Korea, which it says will damage China’s own security and do nothing to ease tensions.

China says the system’s powerful radar will extend into the northeast of the country and potentially track Chinese missile launches, and perhaps even intercept them. Russia is also opposed to THAAD, for the same reasons.

There are other sensitive issues as well, including the autonomous island of Taiwan, which China claims as its own.

The Trump administration is crafting a large weapons package for Taiwan that could include advanced rocket systems and anti-ship missiles to defend itself against China, US officials said, a deal that is sure to infuriate Beijing.