U.S. and China will "work together" on North Korea

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China has been irritated at being repeatedly told by the United States to rein in North Korea's surging nuclear and ballistic missile programs, but Wang described the talks with Tillerson as "candid, pragmatic and productive", and the meeting is seen as progress ahead of a planned summit between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The secretary of state also announced that it may be necessary for the U.S.to take pre-emptive military action against North Korea if the country's weapons program reaches a critical threat level.

Officials on both sides said North Korea dominated the discussions as two countries believe the situation reached unsafe levels.

While he stressed that the USA does not want military conflict, North Korean missile threats "would be met with an appropriate response".

After visiting Japan and South Korea in his first visit to Asia as the chief USA diplomat, Tillerson arrived in China on Saturday, where he met his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, and State Councillor Yang Jiechi, in Beijing on Saturday.

"We will work together to see if we can not 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".

North Korea recently launched four missiles, with the apparent, and unsuccessful, aim of hitting USA airbases in Japan.

Mr Tillerson has struck a cordial tone during his meetings in Beijing, the last stop in a tour of Asia that also included visits to Japan and South Korea.

"What China wants to see is that, rather than get at each other's throat, both China and the U.S. further increase their exports to each other, eventually reaching about $1 trillion".

He said it was time for a new policy on North Korea, but released no details. "China has done little to help", Trump tweeted.

Beijing shares USA concerns over Pyongyang's attempts to build an arsenal of nuclear devices, but has also blamed Washington for escalating tensions.

On the campaign trail past year, candidate Donald Trump pilloried China as a security threat and, particularly, a stealer of American jobs.

During Tillerson's meeting with Chinese President Xi on Sunday, the two discussed efforts to arrange a planned meeting between President Trump and Xi.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, and Foreign Minister Wang Yi met Sunday in Beijing.

Adding to the tension is the fact that China is upset with South Korea for installing a USA anti-missile system known as Terminal High Altitude Area Device (THAAD). "Twenty years of talks with North Korea have brought us to where we are today", he said.

Wang Dong, a North Korea expert at Peking University, said it was wrong to think Beijing can control the unpredictable and head-strong Pyongyang.

China in the past has vehemently opposed USA naval ships and bombers passing through the disputed South China Sea, saying the United States is militarising the region by deliberately sending military vessels.

The secretary of state noted that North Korea doesn't provide "the same type of transparency and forewarning when they chose to launch ballistic missiles".