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Tillerson’s China Trip Ends With Warm Words From President Xi

BEIJING — With warm words from Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ended his first trip to Asia since taking office with an agreement to work together with China on North Korea and putting aside trickier issues.

China has been irritated at being repeatedly told by Washington to rein in North Korea's nuclear and missile programs and the U.S. decision to base an advanced missile defense system in South Korea.

Beijing is also deeply suspicious of U.S. intentions toward self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its own, with the Trump administration crafting a big new arms package for the island that is bound to anger China.

Tillerson Set to Face Biggest Test Yet: Pressure Beijing to Use Clout to Rein in North Korea 1:33

But meeting in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, those issues were brushed aside by Xi and Tillerson, at least in front of reporters, with Xi saying Tillerson had made a lot of efforts to achieve a smooth transition in a new era of relations.

"You said that China-U.S. relations can only be friendly. I express my appreciation for this," Xi said.

Xi said he had communicated with President Donald Trump several times through telephone conversations and messages.

Image: State of Secretary Rex Tillerson shakes hands with China's President Xi Jinping
State of Secretary Rex Tillerson, left, shakes hands with China's President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Sunday. Lintao Zhang / AP

"We both believe that China-U.S. cooperation henceforth is the direction we are both striving for. We are both expecting a new era for constructive development," Xi said.

Tillerson replied that Trump looks forward to enhancing understanding with China and places a "very high value on the communications that have already occurred" between Xi and Trump.

Trump has so far been an unpredictable partner for China, attacking Beijing on issues ranging from trade to the South China Sea and in December by talking to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen.

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Before Tillerson arrived in Beijing on Saturday, Trump said North Korea was "behaving very badly" and accused China of doing little to resolve the crisis over the North's weapons programs.

Underscoring tensions, North Korea conducted a test of a new high-thrust engine at its Tongchang-ri rocket launch station and leader Kim Jong Un said the successful test was "a new birth" of its rocket industry, Pyongyang's official media said on Sunday.