North’s missile failures and high-level diplomatic visit to Beijing highlight an evolving relationship between allies.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, have held talks in Beijing and sent out a message that they would work to strengthen ties between their countries.
After the meeting in the Chinese capital on Sunday, Xi said he and US President Donald Trump had resolved in a phone call last month “that we need to make joint efforts to advance China-US cooperation and we believe that we can make sure the relationship will move ahead in a constructive fashion in the new era”.
He said: “I’m confident that as long as we can do this, the relationship can surely move in the right direction.”
In his first face-to-face talks with Chinese leaders, Tillerson pledged to work together in addressing the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear programme and cautioned that regional tensions had reached a “dangerous level”.
Al Jazeera’s Adrian Brown, reporting from Beijing, said Tillerson’s meeting with Xi was a courtesy call that only lasted seven minutes.
“President Xi Jinping was receiving the US secretary of state because China’s top envoy was in Washington last month where he met President Donald Trump,” he said.
“The real talking was done behind the scenes on Saturday, principally with China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, and North Korea topped the agenda.
“We’ve seen flickers of cooperation between the US and China but no firm agreement on how to deal with North Korea.”
The language from Tillerson and Wang was notably conciliatory after a run-up in which Trump accused China of doing nothing to control its rogue neighbour, while China accused the US of propagating hostilities.
“I think we share a common view and a sense that tensions in the peninsula are quite high right now and that things have reached a rather dangerous level,” Tillerson said after talks with Wang.
“We will work together to see if we cannot bring the government in Pyongyang to a place where they want to make a different course, make a course correction, and move away from the development of nuclear weapons.”
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Beijing, Victor Gao, director of the China National Association of International Studies, said: “US-China trade right now is worth almost $600bn and it is a fact that China has a huge surplus in the trade with the US.
“What China wants to see is that, rather than get at each other’s throat, both China and the US further increase their exports to each other, eventually reaching about $1 trillion.”
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.
He said South Korea that US military action against North Korea is an “option on the table”, and warned the country to end its missile and nuclear programmes.
The United States 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.
China says the system’s radar is a threat to its security.
North Korea has a long-standing ambition to become a nuclear power and conducted its first underground atomic test in 2006, in the teeth of global opposition.
While Tillerson was holding meetings in China on Saturday, North Korea announced that it conducted a ground test of a new type of high-thrust rocket engine that leader Kim Jong-un reportedly described as a revolutionary breakthrough for the country’s space programme.