Tillerson Moves to Affirm Constructive Ties with China After a Rocky Start

Rex Tillerson
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson greets Department of State employees upon arrival at the Department of State in Washington, U.S., February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke by telephone with China's top diplomat on Tuesday and affirmed the importance of a constructive U.S.-China relationship, and the two agreed on the need to address the threat posed by North Korea, the State Department said.

Tillerson and Yang Jiechi, China's state councilor, also discussed economics and trade as well as potential cooperation on counterterrorism, law enforcement and transnational crime, the State Department said in a statement.

The call appeared to be the latest effort by the world's two largest economies to put relations back on an even keel after a rocky start following U.S. President Donald Trump's November election victory.

"Secretary Tillerson and State Councilor Yang affirmed the importance of a constructive bilateral relationship," the U.S. statement said. "The two sides agreed on the need to address the threat that North Korea poses to regional stability."

The call follows a meeting between China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Tillerson on Friday, their first face-to face encounter since the latter took on his job at the start of this month.

In that meeting, Wang stressed that common interests between China and the United States far outweigh their differences.

Trump angered Beijing in December by talking to the president of Taiwan and saying the United States did not have to stick to the "one China" policy, under which Washington acknowledges the Chinese position that there is only one China and Taiwan is part of it.

Trump also accused China of not doing enough to rein in its neighbor North Korea.

However, in a phone call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping last week, Trump agreed to honor the "one China" policy, a major diplomatic boost for Beijing, which brooks no criticism of its claim to self-ruled Taiwan.

On Saturday, China's Commerce Ministry said it would ban all coal imports from North Korea until the end of this year after Pyongyang tested an intermediate-range ballistic missile in its first direct challenge to the international community since Trump took office.

China announced in April it would ban North Korean coal imports to comply with U.N. sanctions aimed at starving Pyongyang of funds for its nuclear and missile programs.

But it made exceptions for deliveries intended for "the people's wellbeing" and not connected to the weapons programs.

Other areas of disagreement between the United States and China include trade imbalances and China's territorial claims in the South China Sea.