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Rex Tillerson and Xi Jinping Meet in China and Emphasize Cooperation
Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and President Xi Jinping of China cast aside their differences on Sunday with a public display of cooperation, sidestepping areas of disagreement even as North Korea made another defiant statement by showing off a new missile engine.
In the highest-level face-to-face meeting between the United States and China since President Trump took office, the two sides made no mention of other contentious issues, including possible punitive trade measures against China and Washington's unhappiness with Beijing's assertiveness in the South China Sea.
Greeting the new secretary of state in an ornate room in the Great Hall of the People, Mr. Xi thanked Mr. Tillerson for a smooth transition to the Trump administration and expressed his appreciation for the sentiment that "the China-U.S. relationship can only be defined by cooperation and friendship."
At least in public, Mr. Tillerson adopted a far different tone than that of his boss, who said in a Twitter post on Friday that China had "done little to help" on North Korea. Instead, Mr. Tillerson said the United States looked forward to stronger ties with China.
China has been North Korea's biggest backer, but relations between the two countries have been strained as the North continues to pursue the development of nuclear weapons. Hours before the meeting between Mr. Tillerson and Mr. Xi, North Korea stuck its nose under the tent, announcing that it had tested a new high-thrust missile engine that analysts said could be used in an intercontinental missile.
The test, apparently timed for Mr. Tillerson's visit to Beijing, was another sign that North Korea was expanding its missile capabilities, with the state news media reporting that the country's leader, Kim Jong-un, had presided over an event of "historic significance."
By testing the engine on Saturday, Mr. Kim appeared to be giving China an additional headache by goading Mr. Tillerson, who said in South Korea on Friday that if the North elevated its threat, a pre-emptive strike by the United States would be on the table.
The missile engine created the "perfect test" of the red line drawn by Mr. Tillerson in Seoul, said Evans J. R. Revere, a former principal deputy assistant secretary of state specializing in North Korea.
Mr. Kim said in January that North Korea was in the final stages of preparing to test an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM: a weapon that could reach the United States. "Based on what just happened at the test site, he doesn't seem to have been kidding," Mr. Revere said.
During his 24-hour stay in Beijing, Mr. Tillerson, who also visited Japan during his first trip to Asia as secretary of state, took the unusual step of repeating rosy Chinese language on the state of relations between the United States and China.
The relationship is guided by "nonconflict, nonconfrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation," Mr. Tillerson said at a news conference with Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The Chinese state news media quoted Mr. Tillerson's echo of the Chinese phrasing, noting it approvingly.
But behind the scenes, diplomats and analysts said there was little doubt that Mr. Tillerson had pressed China to enforce sanctions against North Korea and raised the possibility that the United States would bolster its missile defense in Asia if China did not rein in Mr. Kim.
China strongly objects to the installation of a missile defense system in South Korea, and the polite public words from Mr. Tillerson were designed to give China "face," said a diplomat in Beijing who spoke on the condition of anonymity per diplomatic custom.
Mr. Tillerson was almost certainly sterner in private, according to the diplomat. "I believe Tillerson repeated in the meetings what he said publicly in South Korea and Japan, and backed up Trump in his tweet," he said.
That meant some public warmth was necessary, the diplomat said, because aside from talking about North Korea, Mr. Tillerson also had the task of setting a broad agenda for a summit meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi that is expected to take place in Florida in early April.
At the summit meeting, China is expected to seek a reaffirmation of the "One China" policy, under which the United States recognizes a single Chinese government in Beijing and does not maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
Mr. Trump committed to that policy in a telephone conversation with Mr. Xi in early February, but Chinese leaders, on edge about the president's unpredictability, are eager to further secure it. Mr. Trump's trade team is expected to be in place by the time Mr. Xi reaches Florida, and the Chinese will be looking to deter plans for tariffs and more stringent scrutiny of Chinese investment in the United States.
Chinese analysts said Mr. Tillerson had probably encountered resistance to his arguments that the missile defense system – known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad – was of little danger to China, which firmly believes that the system erodes its nuclear deterrent.
"Tillerson will repeat many times this is no threat to China, but Xi won't believe it," said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University.
The best chance for cooperation on North Korea might come if China decides to more dutifully enforce some economic sanctions, Mr. Shi said.
That would be a relatively small price to pay the Americans for a smooth summit meeting in Florida, although it would further hurt China's already strained ties with North Korea, he said.
"Maybe Xi will broaden the punishment against North Korea somewhat, at the cost of further damaging relations with North Korea," Mr. Shi said. "We have punished North Korea many times, and Kim Jong-un hates China more and more. Maybe China will take some small steps to shut down a few trading companies, but not all."
China keeps the rudimentary North Korean economy running by supplying almost all its oil, and there is little chance Mr. Xi would consider shutting down the pipeline, even though China abruptly halted imports of North Korea's coal last month, ending a valuable source of foreign currency for Pyongyang.
"China won't turn the sanctions from targeting the North Korean nuclear program into a punishment for ordinary North Korean people," The Global Times, a state-run newspaper that often reflects official thinking, said Friday.
But on the eve of Mr. Tillerson's visit to Beijing, a Washington research organization specializing in nuclear matters released a study that it said showed that China was not enforcing the sanctions aimed at the nuclear program.
China has allowed large quantities of materials used to make a component of hydrogen bombs to pass through its borders to the North, according to the research group, the Institute for Science and International Security.
A newly operating plant in North Korea that produces a key ingredient for hydrogen bombs is a glaring example of China's ignoring sanctions, the group said.
The study found that a plant producing lithium 6 – used to manufacture hydrogen bombs that are more powerful than conventional nuclear weapons – was located at a chemical complex on North Korea's east coast.
The North purchased mercury and lithium hydroxide in China, and the items were transported across the border, the president of the institute, David Albright, said. The two commodities are needed for the production of lithium 6, he said.
[Source: By Jane Perlez, The New York Times, Beijing, 19Mar17]
East China Sea Conflict
|This document has been published on 27Mar17 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.|