Donald Trump is looking forward to his first meeting with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said.
In talks with Mr Xi in Beijing on Sunday, Mr Tillerson said Mr Trump places a “very high value” on communications with the Chinese president via phone calls and exchanges of letters. Mr Tillerson said Mr Trump looked forward to “the opportunity of a visit in the future,” an apparent reference to unconfirmed reports of plans for the two men to meet in Florida next month.
Mr Tillerson has struck a cordial tone during his meetings in Beijing, the last stop in a tour of Asia that also included visits to Japan and South Korea. His trip has been dominated by concerns over North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programme.
On the final day of his swing through Asia, Mr Tillerson’s conciliatory approach was in contrast to Mr Trump’s tough talk on Chinese economic competition during his presidential campaign. Mr Xi told him that China considered his meetings on Saturday with foreign minister Wang Yi and senior diplomat Yang Jiechi to have been productive and constructive.
“Both (Trump) and I believe that we need to make joint efforts to advance China-US co-operation and we believe that we can make sure the relationship will move ahead in a constructive fashion in the new era,” Mr Xi said.
Mr Tillerson’s Beijing visit followed his remarks in South Korea on Friday that pre-emptive military action against North Korea might be necessary if the threat from its weapons programme reaches a level “that we believe requires action”.
China, the North’s biggest source of diplomatic support and economic assistance, has not responded directly to those comments, although Beijing has called repeatedly for all sides to take steps to reduce tensions.
China has agreed reluctantly to UN Security Council resolutions sanctioning North Korea, but is adamantly opposed to measures that might bring about a collapse of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s regime.
Beijing fears his fall would send waves of refugees into north-eastern China and see South Korean and American forces taking up positions along its border. Beijing’s patience with Pyongyang appears to be growing thin, however.
Last month, China potentially deprived Mr Kim’s regime of a crucial source of foreign currency by banning imports of North Korean coal for the rest of the year.