Tillerson, Mattis clarify Trump’s China attack

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis (L) and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson conduct a two question press conference after meeting with Chinese officials, June 21, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Pentagon chief James Mattis have tried to clarify President Donald Trump’s criticism of China over its failure to rein in North Korea.

"While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!" Trump wrote in a tweet Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with top Chinese officials, however, Tillerson and Mattis said Wednesday that Washington and Beijing were pushing ahead with their cooperation on a number of issues despite Trump’s dissatisfaction.

 “China continues to work these issues,” Mattis told reporters, noting that Trump’s outrage with China “represents the American people’s view of North Korea right now.”

“This has been a unique opportunity for our nations to engage in philosophical level discussions about how we discuss these issues and discuss the way ahead,” said Mattis. “While competition between our nations is bound to occur, conflict is not inevitable.”

President Donald Trump arrives for a rally on June 21, 2017 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Photo by AFP)

He was referring to the Monday death of Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old US student who was detained in North Korea in January 2016, and was returned to his parents in Cincinnati last week while comatose.

“What you’re seeing, I think, is the American people’s frustration with a regime that provokes and provokes and provokes and basically plays outside the rules, plays fast and loose with the truth,” Mattis said.

Echoing the same stance was Tillerson, who said Washington and Beijing had agreed on the current strategy and were going to stop trade with Pyongyang under UN sanctions.

“We reaffirmed our commitment to implement in full all relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions. For example, we both agree that our companies should not do business with any U.N.-designated North Korean entities,” said the top US diplomat.

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The two secretaries also had a “frank exchange of views” on the disputed South China Sea, said Tillerson, adding that the Chinese promised to fix the issue peacefully.

The US has long been challenging China’s sovereignty claims over most of the sea by sending warships and spy planes near China’s islands there.

Mattis said the operations were going to continue under what the US calls freedom of navigation.

Meanwhile, Tillerson made it clear that the Trump White House was also going to discus human rights issues with China as well.

“We will not be shy about raising our concerns about China’s human rights record, and I was direct and candid in our meetings today,” he said.

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