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Tillerson, China's Xi Stress Cooperation As North Korea Tests New Rocket Engine


Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Beijing on March 19.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Chinese President Xi Jinping cast aside differences on March 19, pledging to seek greater cooperation despite disagreements over North Korea and other issues.

In the highest-level bilateral talks between the two nations since President Donald Trump's inauguration in January, Tillerson and Xi met in Beijing just hours after Pyongyang said it had tested a powerful new rocket engine, with leader Kim Jong Un hailing a "new birth" of its rocket industry.

Prior to the test, Tillerson warned during his first trip to Asia as secretary of state that regional tensions were at a "dangerous level."

Beijing has chafed at pressure from Washington to exert its influence to curb North Korea's nuclear and missile program's, and it has sharply criticized Washington's decision to place a missile-defense system in South Korea.

But Tillerson and Xi vowed to seek stronger bilateral ties.

The Chinese president told Tillerson that he and Trump had agreed in a February telephone call "to make joint efforts to advance China-U.S. cooperation, and we believe that we can make sure the relationship will move ahead in a constructive fashion in the new era."

"I'm confident that as long as we can do this, the relationship can surely move in the right direction," Xi said.

Tillerson told Xi that Trump places "a very high value on the communications that have already occurred" between the two leaders.

"Through further dialogue, we will achieve a greater understanding that will lead to a strengthening of the ties between China and the United States, and set the tone for our future relationship of cooperation," Tillerson said during the meeting at the Great Hall of the People.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Tillerson and Xi agreed during the 30-minute meeting that "there are opportunities for greater cooperation between China and the United States, but acknowledged there are, and will be in the future, differences between the two countries."

"Secretary Tillerson also conveyed that President Trump is anticipating the two will soon be able to meet face-to-face for discussions that will chart the course for future U.S.-China relations," Toner said in a statement.

The meeting was the final stop for Tillerson on his East Asia tour, which also included allies Japan and South Korea and was dominated by concerns over North Korea and the threat posed by its nuclear and ballistic-missile program.

North Korea’s state news agency KCNA said the North’s leader supervised the ground test of the rocket engine.

Kim "emphasized that the whole world will soon witness what eventful significance the great victory won today carries," KCNA said.

Experts said the comments indicate the test was likely a new type of engine for long-range missiles.

China is North Korea's main ally.

A day earlier, Tillerson had said military action is "an option on the table" if the threat posed by Pyongyang increases.

Trump, meanwhile, tweeted that North Korea was "behaving very badly."

The nuclear-armed North has test-launched a series of missiles in recent months and conducted two nuclear tests last year.

South Korea and Pyongyang signed a declaration on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but the North has since walked away from the agreement, citing what it says is the threat of a U.S. invasion.

The United States has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea, and 50,000 in Japan, as a deterrent against a potential aggression from the North.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa, and The New York Times
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