US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has created an "intense atmosphere” for his visit to Beijing, Chinese observers said on Saturday, as he landed in Beijing after warning that military action against North Korea was on the table.
The United States top diplomat is in the Chinese capital to urge officials to do more to rein in Pyongyang, which has alarmed the world with a series of missile tests.
China says it is doing all it can to put pressure on the North’s nuclear ambitions, but fears the collapse of the regime, which could create a conflict on its border and the influx of refugees.
Beijing also claims it is just one of several countries – including the US – who are able to bring a halt to Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.
Mr Tillerson said on Friday that military action was "on the table," while US President Donald Trump accused the North of "behaving badly", adding that "China has done little to help."
The US envoy will meet with the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, and Beijing’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, on Saturday, before holding talks with Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, on Sunday.
China’s Global Times newspaper said Mr Tillerson’s tough comments ahead of the meeting "sends a signal” to Beijing that Mr Trump is taking a different tone towards North Korea than previous US administrations.
Lu Chao, an expert on Korean studies at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the newspaper: "Tillerson intended to put pressure on China and created an intense atmosphere.
"By intensifying the rhetoric, the US government on one hand attempted to test China's reaction, (while) on the other hand, cautioned North Korea not to act rashly," added the academic, who also urged the US to "take back” its military threat to Pyongyang.
The Global Times on Friday accused the US and South Korea of "putting more blame on China” as they had failed to find their own solution to the issue.
"The North Korean nuclear issue is caused by Washington-Pyongyang confrontation, to which China has no obligation to shoulder all the responsibilities,” it said in an editorial.
Hua Chunying, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, said on Friday that China, as a neighbouring country, is concerned about the nuclear issue, and is keen to maintain stability on its border.
But Paul Haenle, who served on the National Security Council under Mr Bush and Barack Obama, said this obsession with stability has not produced positive results for regional security.
"China's first priority to date has not been denuclearisation, but rather stability,” Mr Haenle told The Telegraph.
"China wants to maintain its buffer between US-allied South Korea and its own border, so it is willing to tolerate North Korea provocations and even the advancement of its nuclear programme.”
Mr Haenle, who is also the director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy in Beijing, said the US had taken a tougher line as it had becoming increasingly concerned about the North’s growing military threat.
North Korea caused international outrage in 2006 when it carried out its first underground atomic test. Four more tests have followed, including two last year.
Pyongyang also fired four ballistic missiles into the sea off Japan’s north-west coast earlier this month, in what it described as a drill for an attack on US bases in Japan.
"No American president can tolerate the threat of a nuclear-armed North Korea able to range the continental United States,” said Mr Haenle.
"The US is increasingly unwilling to tolerate a more dangerous, capable and threatening North Korea.
"The US views China's ability to put stronger pressure on North Korea as one of the only ways to get Kim Jong-un back to the negotiating table for talks on denuclearisation.
"But, that same pressure could create the instability that China wants to avoid.”
Mr Tillerson is also expected to discuss the expected visit to the US next month by Mr Xi.