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North Korean Issue Repeatedly Raised on Tillerson’s Asia Visit


Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson before their meeting at at the Great Hall of the People, March 19, 2017, in Beijing, China. (REUTERS/Lintao Zhang/Pool)


The United States’ top diplomat completed a three-nation trip to East Asia on Sunday.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Japan, South Korea and China for talks on security and other issues. But the main concern on all three stops was North Korea and its weapons program.

Tillerson noted in Beijing that the U.S. and China sensed urgency in their dealings with North Korea, which tested a rocket engine on Sunday.

Tillerson met with Chinese President Xi Jinping to prepare for a meeting between the Chinese leader and U.S. President Donald Trump. Their meeting could take place as early as next month.

The Trump administration is seeking to find ways of working with China on a number of issues, such as North Korea, trade, and the South China Sea.

The U.S. official spoke about North Korea at a press conference in Beijing with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

"We've committed ourselves to do everything we can to prevent any type of conflict from breaking out. And we view there are a number of steps that we can take that are in front of us.”

Neither Tillerson nor Wang suggested what steps could be taken.

In the past, President Trump has said that China should do more to pressure North Korea on its nuclear and missile programs.

North Korea policy being tested

The Trump administration is currently studying the U.S. government’s policy on North Korea.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is welcomed by his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, March 16, 2017

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is welcomed by his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, March 16, 2017

Last week, on a stop in Tokyo, Tillerson said that diplomatic and other efforts over the past 20 years have failed to put an end to North Korea’s nuclear activities. He noted that the U.S. had operated under a policy known as “strategic patience.”

When Barack Obama was president, the U.S. had ordered strong economic restrictions on North Korea and against North Korean individuals. It also had increased military cooperation with allies South Korea and Japan and increased military exercises on the Korean peninsula.

"It is clear that a different approach is required," Tillerson said.

Speaking in Japan, he stated, "North Korea and its people need not fear the United States or their neighbors in the region who seek only to live in peace with North Korea."

Tillerson called on North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile programs and noted the U.S. commitment to defend Japan and other allies “is unwavering.”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, and South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se speak give a press conference in Seoul, March 17, 2017.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, and South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se speak give a press conference in Seoul, March 17, 2017.

In South Korea, the secretary of state did not rule out the use of military force against the North Koreans.

Tillerson said, “If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action, that option is on the table.

Daniel Pinkston is a security expert with Troy University in Seoul. He told VOA there are three choices in dealing with North Korea.

“One is to surrender and appease North Korea, just give them everything they want,” he said. “The second option is preventive war, and the use of force to disarm North Korea. And I think the third option, which is the best of the three and the default option, is deterrence and containment.”

However, some experts argue that stronger actions are not necessary at this time. They support direct talks with North Korea.

In Beijing, Tillerson said the U.S. and China should work together to get North Korea to take a “different course.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) speaks with U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson before their meeting at at the Great Hall of the People on March 19, 2017 in Beijing, China.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) speaks with U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson before their meeting at at the Great Hall of the People on March 19, 2017 in Beijing, China.

China has said it supports United Nations Security Council sanctions on North Korea. However, officials say all sides must work to reduce tensions in the area and negotiations should be restarted.

Since the beginning of 2016, North Korea has carried out two nuclear tests and tested many long-distance missile. Most recently, the North launched four missiles that traveled about 1,000 kilometers. Three of the four landed in waters within Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

Looking ahead to future talks with China

On Sunday, Secretary Tillerson also discussed a future meeting between presidents Xi and Trump.

Diplomatic sources told VOA that the meeting could take place from April 6 to 7 at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, Florida home. There, the two leaders will have the chance to discuss North Korea and other issues in person.

Tillerson told Xi that Trump looks forward to increasing understanding between the two countries and “the opportunity for a visit in the future.

Nike Ching and Brian Padden reported this story for VOANews.com. Mario Ritter adapted their reports for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

Strategic –adj. related to a general plan over a long period of time

Unwavering –adj. not changing, continuous and steady

on the table –idiom something to be considered, something that is possible or available

default –n. a fallback position, what happens when no other possibility has been chosen

committed –adj. given time or energy to do something

view –v. to see, to think or have an opinion

source –n. a person who gives information

approach –n. a way of doing things, a way to deal with a problem or issue

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