Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the US government is not seeking a regime change in North Korea.
“We’re not your enemy,” he said, adding that the US wanted a dialogue at some point.
However, a Republican senator said President Donald Trump had told him there would be a war with North Korea if its missile program continued.
North Korea claimed its latest missile could hit the US west coast.
The second test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on July 28, celebrated by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was the latest to be conducted in defiance of a UN ban.
Referring to the border between the Koreas, Rex Tillerson said: “We do not seek a regime change, we do not seek the collapse of the regime, we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula, we do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th parallel.
“We’re not your enemy, we’re not your threat but you’re presenting an unacceptable threat to us and we have to respond.”
President Trump has repeatedly criticized China, which shares a land border with North Korea and is its closest economic ally, for not doing enough to stop Pyongyang’s weapons program.
However, Rex Tillerson took a more diplomatic approach, saying that “only the North Koreans are to blame for this situation”.
“But, we do believe China has a special and unique relationship, because of this significant economic activity, to influence the North Korean regime in ways that no one else can,” he added.
In a separate development, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said that President Trump told him that there would be a military conflict between the two countries if Pyongyang continued with its aim to develop a missile program with the US in its range.
“There will be a war with North Korea over their missile program if they continue to try to hit America with an ICBM,” Lindsey Graham said.
“He [President Trump] has told me that, I believe him, and if I were China I would believe him too, and do something about it,” he said in an interview with NBC’s Today show.
Lindsey Graham added: “If there’s going to be a war… it will be over there. If thousands die, they’re going to die over there. They’re not going to die here. And he [President Trump] has told me that to my face.”
In South Korea on March 17, Rex Tillerson said a US military response would be on the table if North Korea threatened South Korea or US forces.
And President Trump tweeted that North Korea was “behaving very badly”.
Donald Trump also said that China – North Korea’s main ally – had done “little to help”.
Wang Yi defended China’s position, saying all parties were duty-bound to implement UN sanctions against North Korea, but also to seek dialogue and diplomatic solutions.
He said: “We hope that all parties, including our friends from the United States, could size up the situation in a cool-headed and comprehensive fashion and arrive at a wise decision.”
Secretary Rex Tillerson did not repeat his threat in Beijing, but stressed that the US and China shared “a common view that tensions on the peninsula are quite high right now – and that things have reached a rather dangerous level”.
However, he added that they had both committed “to do whatever we can to prevent any kind of conflict breaking out”.
The US has deployed its Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) in South Korea in a move it says is designed to protect against threats from North Korea.
However, China has claimed the system goes “far beyond” the defense needs of the Korean peninsula.
Secretary Tillerson, a former oil executive with no prior diplomatic experience, will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on March 19.
President Xi Jinping is scheduled to visit the US in April for his first meeting with President Donald Trump.
Some commentators expect Rex Tillerson to downplay any tensions between the two countries ahead of that encounter.
Asked if the possibility for military action existed, Rex Tillerson said: “Certainly we do not want to, for things to get to military conflict.”
However, he added: “If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action, then, that option’s on the table.”
Rex Tillerson also called on China to fully implement sanctions imposed by the UN in response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests.
He said: “I don’t believe we have ever fully achieved the maximum level of action that can be taken under the UN Security Council resolution with full participation of all countries.”
The US accuses China, North Korea’s main ally, of not doing enough to rein it in. However, Beijing remains wary of any action that could destabilize the North Korean regime and potentially create chaos on its border.
China is also strongly opposed to the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea.
The US says the system is aimed at countering the threat North Korea, but China says its powerful radar will allow the US to spy on its territory.
In recent days there have been multiple reports of apparent economic retaliation aimed at South Korea by Beijing.
Secretary Rex Tillerson called these actions “unnecessary and troubling”.
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