BEIJING• • Chinese President Xi Jinping told United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson yesterday that he expected US President Donald Trump's upcoming visit to be "wonderful", as ties appear warmer following tensions over North Korea.
Mr Xi smiled as he greeted Mr Tillerson at the imposing Great Hall of the People for talks expected to focus on North Korea and Mr Trump's visit next month.
They, however, did not mention the Hermit Kingdom in public remarks before their private talks.
Mr Xi recalled that he and Mr Trump have spoken on the phone several times and that they already met at the US leader's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida in April and the Group of 20 summit in Germany in July.
"I have enjoyed each and every one of those engagements and we have made considerable efforts to push for the development of China-US relations," Mr Xi said.
"The two of us have also maintained a good working relationship and personal friendship," he said, adding that he believed Mr Trump's visit "will be a special, wonderful and successful one".
Mr Trump has touted his friendship with Mr Xi, but he has also prodded the Chinese leader in recent months to exert more pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear and missile activities.
The US State Department did not suggest any major announcements would be made on Mr Tillerson's trip, but China Daily said it needed to be more than a "routine show of mutual goodwill" ahead of Mr Trump's visit. "The guest and his hosts must... straighten at least one thing out - what each can expect from the other to ensure the situation on the Korean peninsula does not deteriorate and spiral out of control," it said.
The Trump administration angered Beijing this summer by slapping sanctions on Chinese companies accused of supporting North Korea's weapons programme.
But China, which accounts for 90 per cent of North Korea's international trade, has since backed a slew of additional United Nations sanctions against its neighbour.
A senior US official said this week that China appears to be on board with the plan to squeeze Pyongyang. "This is a relationship that continues to grow and mature on the strength of the relationship between yourself and President Trump," Mr Tillerson told Mr Xi. "And we look forward to advancing that relationship at the upcoming summit."
Mr Tillerson also met with China's top diplomat, State Councillor Yang Jiechi, and Foreign Minister Wang Yi to lay the groundwork for Mr Trump's trip, which will include stops in Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines between Nov 3 and 14.
At their meeting, Mr Wang explained China's position on Taiwan to Mr Tillerson and "demanded the US side earnestly respect China's concerns, appropriately handle the relevant issue and avoid bringing disturbances to China-US relations", China's Foreign Ministry said. It did not elaborate.
Mr Yang, meanwhile, said: "Let us concentrate on cooperation and properly manage our differences in the spirit of mutual respect and mutual benefit so that we can keep moving the China-US relationship forward in the right direction."
Mr Tillerson had been due to arrive last Friday evening but his aircraft's problems forced him to travel to China on a military transport plane yesterday.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS