U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Beijing on Saturday for discussions focused on trade and North Korea, along with preparations for a visit by President Donald Trump in November.
Tillerson is making his second visit in office to the world’s No. 2 economy and chief American rival for influence in Asia, and increasingly, the world. He is scheduled to meet Saturday with top Chinese officials including senior foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi, Foreign Minister Wang Yi and President Xi Jinping.
Relations between Beijing and Washington are seen as more crucial than ever with the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles entering a new, dangerous phase as its leader, Kim Jong Un, and Trump exchange personal insults and threats of war with no sign of a diplomatic solution.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang on Friday said talks would center on “issues regarding the improvement of bilateral ties, President Trump’s visit to China within the year as invited by President Xi, and international and regional issues of common concerns.”
Trump has been pressing for tougher measures on Pyongyang from China, the North’s chief trading partner and source of aid and diplomatic support.
Although adamantly opposed to measures that could bring down Kim’s regime, Beijing appears increasingly willing to tighten the screws in agreeing to tough new United Nations sanctions that would substantially cut foreign revenue for the isolated North.
On Thursday, Beijing ordered North Korean-owned businesses and ventures with Chinese partners to close by early January, days after it said it would cut off gas and limit shipments of refined petroleum products, effective Jan. 1. It made no mention of crude oil, which makes up the bulk of Chinese energy supplies to North Korea and is not covered by the U.N. sanctions.
China has also banned imports of North Korean coal, iron and lead ore, and seafood since early September.
Still, Washington hopes…