WASHINGTON, Mar 15 (Agencies): US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson faces a tough first trip to Asia this week when the former oil executive will seek to reassure nervous allies facing North Korea's growing nuclear and missile threat and press China to do more on perhaps the most serious security challenge confronting President Donald Trump.
He will visit China this week, the Chinese foreign ministry said Wednesday as both countries prepared for the first summit between President Xi Jinping and his American counterpart Donald Trump next month.
Tillerson will visit Japan and South Korea before heading to Beijing, where he is expected to firm up a U.S. visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping next month to meet Trump as the leaders of the word's two largest economies.
But the chances of Tillerson persuading China to do more to curb North Korea's weapons programs while in Beijing appear scant, given China's anger at the deployment of a U.S. anti-missile system in South Korea last week, and Trump's repeated threats to impose punitive tariffs on Beijing to correct a large trade imbalance.
Tillerson faces a delicate task in South Korea, which is in political turmoil after former President Park Geun-hye was ousted last week in a corruption scandal.
The prospects of a victory by South Korea's liberal opposition in elections to be held within two months, has raised questions about the future there of the U.S.-made Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system, which China objects to as its radar can penetrate China's territory.
Beijing has sought to pressure Seoul to drop THAAD.
In Seoul on Friday, Tillerson will meet the acting president, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, and Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se. He is not scheduled to see opposition figures, a State Department official said, raising questions about the durability of any agreements.
China says its influence has limits with neighbor and ally North Korea, which launched four more ballistic missiles last week and is working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the United States.
Beijing has proposed that the United States and South Korea halt joint military drills in return for North Korea suspending nuclear and missile activities, an idea Washington and Seoul have rejected.
A Trump administration official said Tillerson's position on THAAD would be uncompromising, but suggested there might be room for concessions elsewhere to win more Chinese cooperation on North Korea.