General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the highest-ranking military officer of the United States Armed Forces, traveled to Beijing to meet with his approximate Chinese counterpart Fang Fenghui, chief of the Joint Staff Department of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and one of China's highest ranking military officials.
According to a statement from the Chinese Defense Ministry, Fang told Dunford that both nations should "push forward stable military ties as an important and major stabilizing factor in bilateral relations"
"We have many, many difficult issues where we don't necessarily share the same perspective," Dunford replied. "We share a commitment to work through these difficult issues."
He added that they had signed a framework to build a new communication mechanism between the two states that would strengthen Sino-US cooperation.
The US and China have no lack of "difficult issues" to work through: Taiwan, Korea, the East China Sea, the South China Sea, India and Pakistan, accusations of predatory monetary policies (currency manipulation on the part of China and quantitative easing on the part of the US), among other issues.
But the issue of the day is North Korea, arguably the focal point of American foreign policy in 2017 and a nation that heavily depends on China both politically and economically. Dunford told Reuters that his goal was to improve the US relationship with China and solve the current crisis on the Korean Peninsula.
"General Dunford delivered a clear message that North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs threaten the entire global community, including China, Russia, the US and our allies," said US military spokesman Capt Darryn James in a statement. "In the interest of regional stability, he said the US views with growing urgency the need for China to increase pressure on the North Korean regime."
The day before Fang met with Dunford, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. They agreed that the two nations should prevent anyone from "stirring up an incident on their doorstep," according to a statement on the Chinese Foreign Ministry's website.
"The most important task at hand is for the US and North Korea to 'hit the brakes' on their mutual needling of each other with words and actions, to lower the temperature of the tense situation and prevent the emergence of an 'August crisis,'" Wang was quoted as saying.
Dunford's tour of Asia started in South Korea, where he told President Moon Jae-in that the US was prepared to use military force against North Korea, but only as a last resort, with economic and diplomatic solutions to be used until exhausted. Following his meeting with Fang, Dunford will visit a Chinese military base and observe a PLA military exercise. After his visit to China, he is to next visit Tokyo.
In recent weeks, Beijing has proved hesitant to take decisive action of any kind against Pyongyang. Li Jie, a Chinese military analyst, told the South China Morning Post that China was not willing to go beyond economic sanctions.
"The US might have told China [at the meeting] about their plan for a possible military response if North Korea attacks, because they would want to know how China would react," Li said. "But China would have let the US know that our action towards North Korea is limited to economic sanctions — that would be the most China would do in coordination with the US."