The United States has opened a direct channel of communication with North Korea and is investigating whether the regime of Kim Jong Un is interested in pursuing talks to give up its nuclear weapons, according to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Saturday, who is in Beijing, seeking China's cooperation on a “maximum pressure” campaign against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"We are probing so stay tuned," Tillerson told reporters after talks with Chinese officials. "We ask. We have lines of communication with Pyongyang. We're not in a dark situation, a blackout. We have a couple, three channels open to Pyongyang."
Amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula, Tillerson met with Chinese President Xi Jinping for talks on DPRK's nuclear program, and they also were to cover trade and preparations for U.S. President Donald Trump's first visit to China in November.
Earlier Saturday Tillerson met with China's top diplomat, State Councilor Yang Jiechi, and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
The U.S. is conferring closely with Chinese officials on Beijing's commitment to curbing imports of North Korean coal, iron, iron ore, lead and lead ore, and seafood.
If fully implemented, the ban on those items could substantially reduce North Korea’s revenues this year. North Korea had earned $1.5 billion from the export of these items to China in 2016, according to the State Department.
China is North Korea’s number one trade partner. Washington says bringing China on board is key to cutting off Pyongyang’s ability to earn hard currency.
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Asia Program director Douglas Paal said, however, China’s influence over North Korea is limited.
“The North is very reluctant to take instructions from China. It will exploit whatever it can get from China, but it doesn't look for political guidance from China. So this is a problem we [the U.S.] and South Korea are going to have to handle directly with North Korea as we go forward,” Paal told VOA.
VOA's Nike Ching contributed to this report.