N. Korea ooms over U.S-China meet­ing

As Tiller­son, Xi stress co­op­er­a­tion, Kim tests mis­sile en­gine.

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - Jane Perlez ©2017 The New York Times

Sec­re­tary of State Rex W. Tiller­son and Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping of China cast aside their dif­fer­ences on Sun­day with a pub­lic dis­play of coop- er­a­tion, 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 two coun­tries since Don­ald Trump be­came pres­i­dent, the two sides made no men­tion of other con­tentious is­sues, in­clud­ing pos­si­ble puni­tive trade mea­sures against China and Wash­ing­ton’s un­happi- ness with Bei­jing’s as­sertive­ness in the South China Sea.

Xi, greet­ing the new sec- re­tary of state in an or­nate room in the Great Hall of the Peo­ple, thanked 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, 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 say­ing that the United States looked for­ward to stronger ties with China.

China has been N orth 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 Tiller­son and 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 was an­other sign that North Korea was ex­pand­ing its mis­sile ca­pa­bil- ities, with state me­dia re­port­ing that the coun­try’s leader, Kim Jong Un, had presided over an event of “his­toric sig- nif­i­cance.”

By test­ing the en­gine on Satur­day, the North Korean leader ap­peared to be giv­ing China an ad­di­tional head- ache by goad­ing Tiller­son, who said in South Korea on Fri­day that if the North ele- vated its threat, a pre-emp- tive strike by the United States would be on the ta­ble.

The mis­sile en­gine test cre­ated the “per­fect test” of the red line drawn by Tiller­son in Seoul, said Evans J.R. Re­vere, a for­mer prin­ci­pal deputy as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state, spe­cial­iz­ing in North Korea.

Kim said in Jan­uary that North Korea was in the fi­nal stages of pre­par­ing for an ICBM test, a mis­sile that could reach the United States. “Based on what just hap­pened at the test site, he doesn’t seem to have been kid­ding,” Re­vere said.

Dur­ing his 24-hour stay in Bei­jing, Tiller­son, who also vis­ited Ja­pan dur­ing his first trip to Asia as sec­re­tary of state, took the un­usual step of re­peat­ing rosy Chi­nese lan- guage on the state of re­la­tions be­tween the United States and China.

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween China and the U.S. was guided by “non­con­flict, non­con­fron- tation, mu­tual re­spect and win-win co­op­er­a­tion,” Til- ler­son said at a news con- fer­ence with For­eign Min- is­ter Wang Yi. Chi­nese state me­dia quoted Tiller­son’s echo of the Chi­nese phras­ing, not- ing it ap­prov­ingly.

But be­hind the scenes, diplo­mats and an­a­lysts said there was lit­tle doubt that Tiller­son had pressed China to en­force sanc­tions against North Korea and had raised the pos­si­bil­ity that the United States would bol­ster its mis­sile de­fense in Asia if China did not rein in Kim.

China strongly ob­jects to the in­stal­la­tion in South Korea of a mis­sile de­fense sys­tem there, and the po­lite pub­lic words from Tiller­son were de­signed to give China “face,” said a diplo­mat in Bei­jing who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity per usual diplo­matic cus­tom.

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,” the diplo­mat said. That meant some pub­lic warmth was nec­es­sary, he said, be­cause aside from talk­ing about North Korea, Tiller­son also had the task of set­ting a broad agenda for a sum­mit meet­ing be­tween Trump and Xi that is ex­pected to take place in Florida in early April.

China is ex­pected to seek a reaf­fir­ma­tion of the “One China” pol­icy un­der which the United States rec­og­nizes a sin­gle gov­ern­ment in Bei­jing and does not main­tain diplo­matic ties with Tai­wan.

LIN­TAO ZHANG / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son (left) shakes hands with China’s Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping at the Great Hall of the Peo­ple in Bei­jing on Sun­day.

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