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Rex Tillerson in China to discuss North Korea

US secretary of state travels to Beijing after saying pre-emptive military action against North Korea may be necessary.

Tillerson with Wang Yi

Rex Tillerson has arrived in Beijing for his first face-to-face talks with Chinese leaders expected to focus on North Korea's nuclear programme.

The US secretary of state's visit on Saturday followed his remarks the previous day in South Korea where he cautioned that pre-emptive military action against North Korea might be necessary.

He said US military action against North Korea is an "option on the table", and warned the country to end its missile and nuclear programmes.

"The policy of strategic patience has ended," Tillerson said during his joint press conference with his South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung-se, on Friday.

"Strategic patience" is the term given to the US policy under Barack Obama when the US ruled out engaging the North until it made a tangible commitment to denuclearisation, hoping that internal stresses would bring about change.

Tillerson held talks with Wang Yi, China's foreign minister, on Saturday.

Yi gave warning last week that North Korea and the US-South Korea duo were like "two accelerating trains" headed at each other, with neither side willing to give way.

"The question is: Are the two sides really ready for a head-on collision?" Wang said. "Our priority now is to flash the red light and apply the brakes on both trains."

Wang said North Korea could suspend its nuclear and missile activities in exchange for a halt in joint US-South Korea military drills, a proposal quickly dismissed by Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the UN, who said the US has to see "some sort of positive action" from North Korea before it can take leader Kim Jong-un seriously.

First Asia visit

Tillerson, a former oil executive, began his first Asian visit as secretary of state in Japan on Wednesday followed by South Korea. He travelled to China from South Korea on Saturday.

Previously, Tillerson had said in Tokyo that 20 years of diplomatic and other efforts, including a period when the US provided North Korea with $1.35bn in assistance "to take a different pathway", had come to nothing.

The US has been pressing China to do more to rein in North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes, including imposing tougher sanctions on North Korea.

However, China has been angered by the deployment of a US missile defence system to the South.


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