Politics

Tillerson: China Sends ‘Unequivocal’ Message on North Korea

Xi wants to give sanctions time to further squeeze North, secretary of state says

Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson appears on Capitol Hill earlier this year. He said on Thursday that Chinese officials say they will not stand for a nuclear-armed North Korea. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Chinese leaders have made an “unequivocal” declaration to U.S. officials that they will not tolerate a North Korea armed with nuclear weapons, says Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

U.S. and Chinese officials see evidence of “stress” on key North Korean figures, including members of its military, because of recent sanctions applied since the Trump administration took office, Tillerson said, citing intelligence reports.

“There is no disagreement on North Korea,” Tillerson told reporters in Beijing traveling with President Donald Trump, referring to how the U.S. and Chinese governments view an nuclear-armed North.

“In fact, we were quite pleased and gratified that President [Jinping] Xi himself and ... our counterparts on the Chinese side have been very clear and unequivocal they will not accept a North Korea with nuclear weapons,” Tillerson said Thursday after Trump and Xi wrapped up a day of ceremony and meetings.

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While in Beijing, Trump has vaguely alluded to his belief in an undefined “solution” to the North Korea threat.

To be sure, the White House stance, however, is a remedy that cannot be found unless China plays a bigger role and applies greater pressure on Kim Jong-un. China is the North’s largest trading partner and lone remaining ally.

“President Trump, our president, has been very clear with President Xi that he takes the view that you are a very powerful neighbor of theirs,” Tillerson said, then summarizing Trump’s message for Xi, he said: “‘You account for 90-plus percent of their economic activity; you’re a strong man; you can, I’m sure, solve this for me.’ And so he was very clear with him and said he believes it can be solved.”

Washington and Beijing, however, appear to disagree on how quickly.

Before Trump departed last Friday for Asia, his national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, made this statement about North Korea’s nuclear program: “We’re running out of time.”

All indications are Chinese officials do not share that urgency.

“President Xi took the views that the sanctions are going to take a little while, that he didn’t expect immediate results, but that, clearly, from his perspective, the North Korean regime is feeling the full effects of the sanctions themselves,” Tillerson said.

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“I think in terms of how long will it take, no one is making any predictions,” he said.

Except for the U.S. president’s declarations to defend the United States if attacked, Trump and his top aides have dropped their sabre-rattling rhetoric toward North Korea while on Asian soil. In a shift, Trump himself has used the trip to invite the North to the negotiating table.

And his top aides have even spelled out conditions for talks they just a few weeks ago said would never work.

And while Trump as a candidate criticized the Obama administration’s foreign policy tactics, he has used one of its preferred tools quite a bit: sanctions.

“We see certain signs of our own through intel and other sources we have that it is creating some stress within North Korea’s economy and with some of their citizens,” Tillerson said, “potentially even within some of their military.”

The recent sanctions are targeted at individuals and entities that have Kim’s ear. And experts say the most likely group to remove him from power would be the country’s powerful military generals.

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