US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to discuss North Korea crisis, trade during China visit

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson departs a joint news conference in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington DC. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will visit China this week for talks that will include the crisis over North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes and trade, the State Department said on Tuesday (Sept 26).

Tillerson's trip, from Sept 28 to 30, will also lay the groundwork for President Donald Trump's visit to China in November, State Department spokesman Heather Nauert said.

Tillerson's visit comes at a time of high tension between the United States and North Korea, China's neighbour and ally, which is working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles capable of reaching the US mainland.

President Donald Trump warned North Korea on Tuesday that any US military option against North Korea would be "devastating" for Pyongyang, but said the use of force was not Washington's first option. China has urged a return to dialogue.

Nauert called China's steps to implement tougher UN sanctions on North Korea after its recent missile and nuclear tests "significant".

"We have a good relationship with China," she told a regular news briefing, adding that this was evidenced by what would be Tillerson's second visit to China in nine months in office. "China has taken enormous steps in the right direction. There is always more that countries can do, but at this point we want to thank China for the steps it has taken in the right direction."

In Beijing on Wednesday (Sept 27), Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, when asked for details of Tillerson's visit, told a regular news briefing only that he would meet China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

While backing UN sanctions, China, North Korea's main trading partner, opposes unilateral US steps and has been worried Washington might move to freeze its banks out of the global financial system unless they cut ties to Pyongyang.

On Tuesday, the US Treasury announced sanctions against 26 more individuals as part of its non-proliferation designations for North Korea, as well as nine North Korean banks, including some with ties to China.

Tillerson's visit to Beijing follows one by US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who said on Monday that China needed to guarantee fair and reciprocal treatment for US firms, as he tried to strike an upbeat tone amid bilateral trade tension. China-US ties have been strained by Trump's criticism of China's trade practices and by demands that Beijing do more on North Korea.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Trump met for the first time at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida in April. Trump has since played up his personal relationship with Xi, even while criticising China over North Korea and trade. In August, Trump authorised an inquiry into China's alleged theft of intellectual property - his first direct trade measure against Beijing, a move China called "irresponsible".

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