TOKYO (AFP) - US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to visit Japan, China and South Korea later this month to discuss Pyongyang's nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programmes, local media reported on Saturday (March 4).
Tillerson has so far kept a low profile and it will be his first visit to the region since he became President Donald Trump's top diplomat last month.
The former oil executive is expected to visit Japan on March 17 and 18 on the first leg of his Asian tour and hold talks with his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida as well as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Nikkei business daily said.
Abe has spent more time with Trump than any foreign leader, and while ties had initially been strained by Trump's rejection of a trans-Pacific trade deal and his readiness to question defence commitments, the US president has since pledged full support to Tokyo.
During the Beijing leg of the Asia trip, Tillerson plans to meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and possibly also with President Xi Jinping, Kyodo News said, quoting unnamed diplomatic sources.
The two major powers are expected to arrange a meeting between Xi and Trump in the United States as early as April, they said.
Tillerson first met with counterpart Yi at a G-20 meeting in Germany last month, and urged Beijing to help rein in North Korea.
Their talks, the highest level Sino-US encounter since Trump was elected, had appeared unlikely after the US leader infuriated Beijing by calling into question Washington's long-standing "One China" policy.
Trump however later reaffirmed the position in a conciliatory phone call to Xi.
Several of Trump's cabinet, including Tillerson, have also warned Beijing against throwing its weight about in the South China Sea, insisting the US would intervene if necessary to preserve international rights of navigation.
However, China shares US concerns about Pyongyang's nuclear weapons - though it prefers negotiations to new sanctions, which it fears could destabilise North Korea.
In Seoul, Tillerson plans to hold talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se at which North Korea's weapons development as well as the February murder of the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Malaysia are likely to be discussed, Kyodo said.
On Monday, senior US, South Korean and Japanese officials met in Washington to discuss how better to enforce international sanctions against the North.
The isolated regime has continued to thumb its nose at the world with a series of missile launches and two nuclear tests in 2016 alone.