Who blinked? Tough talk on Asia tour earns Tillerson warm reception in Beijing

by WorldTribune Staff, March 19, 2017

A trip to Asia that began with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson bluntly warning that the U.S. policy of “strategic patience” with the rogue regime and Chinese strategic ally in North Korea is no more, ended with Chinese President Xi Jinping hailing a “new era for constructive development.”

“You said that China-U.S. relations can only be friendly. I express my appreciation for this,” Xi said in a meeting with Tillerson on March 19 at the Great Hall of the People.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with China’s Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 19. / Pool photo by Lintao Zhang

But that rhetorical exchange was answered in Pyongyang with a test of a high-thrust rocket engine at the Sohae launch site, hailed as the ‘March 18 revolution’ by North Korean propagandists.

In Seoul on March 17, Tillerson said that “all options are on the table” for dealing with the Kim Jong-Un regime, including an implied pre-emptive military strike.

After Tillerson spoke in Seoul, U.S. President Donald Trump posted on Twitter that “North Korea is behaving very badly” and “China has done little to help!”

But Tillerson also said in Seoul before heading to Beijing that the U.S. would focus on getting China to better enforce United Nations sanctions against North Korea.

“We hope all parties, including our friends from the United States, could size up the situation in a cool-headed and comprehensive fashion and arrive at a wise decision,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a meeting with Tillerson on March 18.

“The most important principle we have identified is that no matter what happens, we have to stay committed to diplomatic means as a way to seek a peaceful settlement,” Wang said.

Tillerson said: “We share a common view and a sense that tensions on the peninsula are quite high right now, and things have reached a rather dangerous level. We’ve committed ourselves to do everything we can to prevent any type of conflict from breaking out.”

China wants the U.S. and North Korea to negotiate directly while the position of the Trump administration is that talks can not begin until Kim Jong-Un makes a credible display that he’s willing to give up his nuclear program.

Xi said he has communicated with Trump several times through telephone conversations and messages.

“We both believe that China-U.S. cooperation henceforth is the direction we are both striving for. We are both expecting a new era for constructive development,” Xi said.

“The joint interests of China and the United States far outweigh the differences, and cooperation is the only correct choice for us both,” Xi added, in comments carried by China’s Foreign Ministry.

North Korea has not toned down its rhetoric, pledging to launch a nuclear strike on the U.S. if a “single bullet is fired” as U.S. forces flood the Korean Peninsula for wargames with South Korea.

“Korean People’s Army will reduce the bases of aggression and provocation to ashes,” the Kim regime said.

Tillerson, meanwhile, gave his first sit-down interview since becoming secretary of state to the conservative-leaning Independent Journal Review’s Erin McPike, who was the only journalist the State Department allowed to travel on the secretary’s plane for the three-nation Asia trip. Other news organizations have protested, saying that for decades they have traveled with the secretary.

On the North Korea situation, Tillerson told McPike: “Our objective is a denuclearized Korean peninsula. A denuclearized Korean peninsula negates any thought or need for Japan to have nuclear weapons. We say all options are on the table, but we cannot predict the future. … The attention on South Korea early in this administration has been dominated by the actions of North Korea, and that’s taken a lot of careful time and attention. Japan, also, is obviously an important element of that trilateral relationship.”