By David Brunnstrom
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will pressure China and other Asian countries to crack down on North Korea when he attends regional meetings in Manila starting this week, he said on Wednesday. a senior American official.
Susan Thornton, Acting Undersecretary of State for East Asia, said Tillerson would have the opportunity to interact with China’s foreign minister at meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Manila, but had no plans to meet with the North Korean Foreign Minister there.
Thornton said Tillerson, who is due to arrive in Manila on Saturday, will seek further cooperation to isolate North Korea and enforce UN sanctions on its missile and nuclear weapons programs. He said Washington wanted countries to “drastically” cut their relations with Pyongyang.
“What we are trying to do is galvanize this pressure and isolate North Korea so that it can see what the opportunity cost of developing these weapons programs is,” he told reporters on a conference call to take a look at the trip. of Tillerson.
Thornton said China had taken “important steps, … frankly unprecedented steps” to increase pressure on its neighbor North Korea, but that it could do “much more” to intensify the application of existing sanctions and impose more.
“We would like to see more action faster and more obvious and faster results, but I think we are not going to give up just yet.”
Thornton’s remarks contrasted with those of US President Donald Trump, who on Saturday accused Beijing of doing “nothing” to help North Korea and pointed to the huge US trade deficit with China.
A senior Trump administration official said Tuesday that Trump was close to making a decision on how to respond to what he sees as China’s unfair trade practices and was considering actions that could lead to tariffs or other trade restrictions on Chinese products.
Thornton declined to comment on any possible action, but emphasized that, despite Trump’s tweets, North Korea and the trade issue were not linked “transactionally” but “philosophically.”
“Can we work together on the key security challenge facing Northeast Asia, which is North Korea’s challenge?” she said. “If we can work together to do that, surely we can have a productive and mutually beneficial economic relationship in which we both enjoy reciprocal and fair access to each other’s markets.”
Thornton said Tillerson will continue to pressure China on the South China Sea issue while in Asia, where the United States has been pushing for a code of conduct on competing territorial claims to be quickly adopted.
He said the United States “certainly” will raise human rights with the government of Philippine President Duterte.
America’s criticism of Duterte’s bloody drug war under Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, damaged relations between former allies. Duterte has remained defiant, accusing critics of “trivializing” his drug campaign with human rights concerns.
Tillerson will also visit Thailand next Tuesday and then Malaysia. His visit to Bangkok will be the first by a US secretary of state since before the military seized power in a coup in 2014.
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