How do you solve a problem like Korea? Can US and China sing to the same tune?

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his Chinese counterpart in Beijing today. Photo by China News Service

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has welcomed US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Beijing and hailed his visit as an important step towards a summit between the two nation’s leaders.

Secretary Tillerson arrived in the Chinese capital today (Saturday, March 18) for talks expected to be dominated by the threat of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme. Speaking in yesterday, he stressed that no options, including pre-emptive strikes, had been ruled out.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that President Xi Jinping will meet Donald Trump face to face at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida next month.

The apparently friendly tone of the meeting is in stark contrast to some blunt language employed by both sides in recent months (see links below) on the issue of the South China Sea.

“Through the hard work of both sides, Sino-US relations are developing positively, and in a stable manner, after President Trump has assumed office,” Wang said in his opening remarks at the Diaoyutai State Guest House ahead of the talks.

“The two sides are communicating about a summit between the leaders of the two nations and exchanges among different levels of officials. Your visit is a key step towards this,” Wang said to Tillerson.

The Secretary of State said the US was looking forward to developing a relationship with China after Xi and Trump spoke by telephone in February.

“We know that there will be many opportunities for us to explore our mutual interests, but also to address differences between our two countries,” he said.

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Kim Jong Un has made developing a viable nuclear capability a central plank of his leadership

Tillerson’s visit to Beijing follows a visit to South Korea yesterday, when he said that pre-emptive military action against North Korea was an option if military tensions escalated.

President Trump also tweeted that China had done little to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis.

In a sign suggesting Beijing is likely to snub talk of a military option, an editorial in the state-run Xinhua news agency today said should talk to North Korea rather than “terrorise” it.

China has publicly called for North Korea to halt its nuclear weapons programme and missile tests in exchange for an end to joint military drills by the US and South Korea, which the North considers “provocative” or even a cover for a planned invasion.

Last month Beijing signalled a tougher approach to the Hermit Kingdom when it banned all coal imports — a central plank 0f the communist nation’s fragile economy.

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