China has asked for cooler heads, saying that the only way to curb North Korea's nuclear programme is through talks, against the tougher approach that the United States is pushing.
Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi yesterday said the most important principle was to stay committed to diplomatic means as a way to seek a peaceful settlement, no matter what happens.
His US counterpart, Mr Rex Tillerson, had said a day earlier in Seoul that a military option for resolving the North Korean nuclear issue was on the table.
Said Mr Wang at a joint press conference after their meeting yesterday: "We hope all parties, including our friends from the United States, can size up the situation in a cool-headed and comprehensive fashion and arrive at a wise decision." He pointed out that the heightened tension on the Korean peninsula was because of the breakdown of talks.
"The situation we face today is precisely caused by the fact that the six-party talks have ground to a halt and there was no means for diplomatic and political dialogues," he said, referring to multilateral denuclearisation talks in 2003-2009 that were facilitated by Beijing.
A DANGEROUS SITUATION
I think we share a common view and a sense that tensions in the peninsula are quite high right now and that things have reached a rather dangerous level.
US SECRETARY OF STATE REX TILLERSON
IMPORTANT TO STAY CALM
We hope all parties, including our friends from the United States, can size up the situation in a cool-headed and comprehensive fashion and arrive at a wise decision.
CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTER WANG YI
Warning that allowing the situation to escalate would lead to conflict, Mr Wang called for all parties to try to find ways to restart dialogue.
He asked that parties concerned study the Chinese proposals for doing so, alluding to suggestions he made on March 8 at a press conference on the sidelines of China's annual parliamentary session.
These are for North Korea to suspend its nuclear and missile programmes and the US and South Korea to halt their large-scale annual military exercises, allowing the two sides to come to the negotiation table.
Mr Tillerson, for his part, noted that he and Mr Wang shared a common view that "things have reached a rather dangerous level" but "we've committed ourselves to doing everything we can to prevent any type of conflict from breaking out".
Signalling that the two sides might have moved slightly closer on diplomacy to deal with the North Korean nuclear issue, Washington's top diplomat said the two sides would continue talking "on what we can both do, along with working with others, to bring North Korea to a different place where we hope we can then begin a dialogue".
The two men also discussed wide-ranging bilateral and regional issues, including maritime disputes in the region, at their meeting.
On bilateral trade, Mr Tillerson said: "Our two countries should have a positive trading relationship that is fair and pays dividends both ways. And we will be working on that going forward."
The US has a trade deficit of US$347 billion (S$487 billion) with China. President Donald Trump, during his election campaign, had accused China of stealing US jobs and threatened to slap heavy tariffs on Chinese imports.
Separately at an economic forum in Beijing, Apple CEO Tim Cook called on China to continue to open up its economy to foreign firms.
Expressing support for globalisation, he said: "The reality is, countries that are closed, that isolate themselves, it's not good for their people."
Mr Tillerson, who is on his first visit to China after he assumed office as US Secretary of State last month, also met State Councillor Yang Jiechi yesterday and will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping today.