Beijing—The United States’ top diplomat will press a tougher new line on North Korea in talks with a wary China on Saturday, in a tense atmosphere after President Donald Trump accused Beijing of failing to rein in Pyongyang.
On a tour of Asia, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has broken with years of strategic patience over North Korea, saying that approach had “failed” and that US military action against North Korea was possible if its threats escalated.
The sea change in US policy follows two North Korean nuclear tests last year and recent missile launches including a salvo earlier this month that Pyongyang described as practice for an attack on US bases in Japan.
Trump upped the pressure on China to get tough in a Friday Twitter blast accusing Beijing of failing to use its leverage as North Korea’s key diplomatic and trade partner to put a leash on Pyongyang.
“North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been ‘playing’ the United States for years. China has done little to help!” Trump said.
But Beijing is deeply reluctant to get too tough with its volatile neighbour lest it trigger a confrontation or a messy regime collapse on China’s front door.
China has hit back at the US, angrily accusing it of fuelling tension by holding military exercises with its ally Seoul and deploying an anti-missile system in South Korea.
Beijing called this month for all sides to take steps to defuse the situation and avoid a “head-on collision,” calling for re-started diplomatic efforts to dismantle the North’s banned nuclear and missile programmes.
Years of diplomacy, however, have failed to deter Pyongyang, and Washington has rebuffed the Chinese proposal.
China’s state-run Xinhua news agency said in an editorial on Saturday that “there is nothing new” in the harder stance outlined by Tillerson.
It rejected suggestions that Beijing was not doing enough.
“Positive results require effort and good faith from both sides. China has never fallen short of offering its fair share. It’s all up to Washington now,” it said.