Top China diplomat meets Trump amid N. Korea concerns

US President Donald Trump holds his first face-to-face talk with a member of the Chinese leadership, in what the White House says was a chance to discuss shared security interests and a possible meeting with President Xi Jinping.
Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi delivering a speech in Beijing last October. He told US President Trump on Monday the two countries should broaden cooperation on regional issues and respect each other's core interests.
Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi delivering a speech in Beijing last October. He told US President Trump on Monday the two countries should broaden cooperation on regional issues and respect each other's core interests.PHOTO: REUTERS

Contact comes as Beijing seeks to rein in Kim Jong Un and halt Thaad deployment in S. Korea

WASHINGTON • China's top diplomat has met US President Donald Trump in the highest-level contact between the world's two biggest economies since last month as concerns about North Korea overshadow tensions over trade.

State Councillor Yang Jiechi relayed greetings from President Xi Jinping in a meeting on Monday with Mr Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence and senior adviser Jared Kushner, Xinhua news agency said. Mr Yang told Mr Trump the two countries should broaden cooperation on regional issues and respect each other's core interests, according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement.

Chinese leaders have called for a new round of talks on North Korea as they seek to rein in its leader Kim Jong Un and halt US plans to deploy an advanced missile-defence system in South Korea, partly due to concerns that it will undermine China's own security. Pyongyang hit out at Beijing last week after it banned coal imports, saying it was "dancing to the tune of the US".

The Global Times, a Communist Party-affiliated newspaper, yesterday called for China to take action against South Korea's Lotte Group after it agreed to provide land for the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) anti-missile system. South Korea and Japan both rely on the United States to provide a "nuclear umbrella" to deter threats from North Korea and China.

"It is acting wilfully in deploying Thaad on its soil, betraying the cooperative logic in North-east Asia, tying itself to the US chariot and turning into an arrogant pawn of Washington in the latter's military containment against China," the editorial said of Lotte. "From any perspective, adopting counterattacks towards Seoul is a must for Beijing."

Tensions between the US and China on how to handle North Korea have escalated since Mr Trump accused Beijing of not doing enough to curb Pyongyang, which has accelerated its development of nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles.

South Korea and the US will start their annual Foal Eagle military drills tomorrow, Yonhap reported.

Mr Yang separately held talks with US officials, including new National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and chief strategist Steve Bannon, Xinhua reported.

A senior US administration official said discussions included bilateral cooperation and the possibility of arranging a meeting between the two presidents, but no date was set.

After those meetings, Mr Yang had a chance to "say hi" to the President before he left, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said at a White House briefing. "This is an opportunity to begin that conversation and talk to them on shared interests of national security," he said.

Mr Spicer said the meeting with Mr Trump lasted five to seven minutes. The White House meeting follows a call between Mr Yang and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last week where they discussed trade and counterterrorism and pledged to "address the threat that North Korea poses to regional stability".

Tensions between the US and China on how to handle North Korea have escalated since Mr Trump accused Beijing of not doing enough to curb Pyongyang, which has accelerated its development of nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles.

As Mr Yang held talks at the White House, senior officials from the US, Japan and South Korea met at the State Department to discuss additional measures to stop funding towards North Korea's weapons programme.

Mr Yang's meeting with Mr Trump signals progress in China's efforts to open lines of communication with the White House in an effort to avoid a trade war or military confrontation. Earlier last month, Mr Trump told Mr Xi he would respect the "one China" policy, under which the US acknowledges the Chinese position that there is only one China and Taiwan is part of it.

"Certainly it is positive for a new US leader to meet with China's top diplomat," said Dr Graham Webster, a senior fellow at Yale Law School's China Centre. "Whether any sustained communication will result is another question."

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2017, with the headline 'Top China diplomat meets Trump amid N. Korea concerns'. Print Edition | Subscribe