US, China affirm importance of ties, agree on N. Korea

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) and China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a gathering of foreign ministers of the G20 leading and developing economies at the World Conference Center in Bonn, Germany, on Feb 17, 2017.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) and China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a gathering of foreign ministers of the G20 leading and developing economies at the World Conference Center in Bonn, Germany, on Feb 17, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has spoken to China's top diplomat over the phone and affirmed the importance of a constructive US-China relationship, and the two agreed on the need to address the threat posed by North Korea, the US State Department said.

Mr Tillerson and China's State Councillor Yang Jiechi, who outranks the Foreign Minister, also discussed economics, trade and potential cooperation on counter-terrorism, law enforcement and transnational crime, the State Department said in a statement.

The call appeared to be the latest effort by the world's two largest economies to put relations back on an even keel after a rocky start following US President Donald Trump's November election win.

"Secretary Tillerson and State Councillor Yang affirmed the importance of a constructive bilateral relationship," the statement said. "The two sides agreed on the need to address the threat that North Korea poses to regional stability."

Tuesday's call follows a meeting between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Mr Tillerson last Friday, their first face-to-face encounter since Mr Tillerson began his job at the start of this month. In that meeting, Mr Wang stressed that common interests between China and the United States far outweigh their differences.

Mr Trump had angered Beijing in December by talking to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and saying the US did not have to stick to the "one China" policy, under which Washington acknowledges the Chinese position that there is only one China and Taiwan is part of it. Mr Trump also accused China of not doing enough to rein in its neighbour, North Korea.

However, in a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week, Mr Trump agreed to honour the "one China" policy, a major diplomatic boost for Beijing.

"China hopes the two countries, following through on the spirit of the phone conversation, could uphold the principles of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation as well as enhance high-level exchanges," Mr Yang told Mr Tillerson, reported China's Xinhua news agency. It added that Mr Tillerson told Mr Yang the US is willing to work with China to enhance mutual trust and develop ties.

China's readout of the call did not mention any specific issues, with Xinhua noting only that they also "exchanged some views on a number of international issues".

China said last Saturday that it would ban all coal imports from North Korea until the end of this year after Pyongyang tested an intermediate-range ballistic missile.

Other areas of disagreement between the US and China include trade imbalances and China's South China Sea claims.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2017, with the headline 'US, China affirm importance of ties, agree on N. Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe