As U.S. President Donald Trump heads to China on the third leg of his Asian tour, Chinese officials promised an "in-depth and strategic exchange" on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, calling for a return to the negotiating table amid a more conciliatory tone from Washington.
In a departure from personal insults and his earlier "fire and fury" rhetoric, Trump called at a news conference in Seoul for talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying it "makes sense for North Korea to come to the table."
He said Kim should "do the right thing, not only for North Korea but for humanity all over the world," adding that he "hoped to God" he wouldn't have to take military action to resolve the standoff.
North Korea is believed to be close to developing a nuclear missile that could hit the mainland United States, according to recent media reports.
Trump had earlier threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea if it threatens the United States, referring to Kim as "Rocket Man," while being called a "dotard" by Pyongyang in return.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the ruling Chinese Communist Party is willing to work with Washington, amid growing concern by activists and experts that human rights won't figure prominently on the agenda.
"We are willing to maintain close communication and coordination with the United States on the basis of mutual respect and make unremitting efforts to promote the proper and peaceful settlement of the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue," Hua told a regular news briefing on Tuesday.
She also called for "restraint" regarding joint naval drills in the Western Pacific by three U.S. aircraft carriers, which will coincide with Trump's visit to the region.
"The situation on the Korean peninsula is highly complex and grave," Hua said. "All relevant parties should exercise restraint, avoid provoking each other [and] jointly stay committed to abating tensions."
'Friction and confrontation'
Beijing-based political activist Zha Jianguo said that while Xi will likely use Trump's visit to boost his own image in the wake of last month's leadership reshuffle, his administration won't simply dance to Washington's tune when it comes to North Korea.
"[Xi] will need to clamp down ever more tightly on dissenting opinions within party ranks, as well as any political opposition," Zha said. "Externally, we will see moderation from Xi with regard to the Western world led by the United States, despite the many sources of friction and confrontation."
Zha said Beijing is unlikely just to do as it is told with regard to the North Korean nuclear standoff. However, it will likely seek to boost trade ties by increasing Chinese direct investment in the United States, he said.
Hua said Beijing wants to preserve peace through political and diplomatic means, as part of President Xi vision of an expanded role for China on the world stage.
"[China wants] a new type of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness, justice and win-win cooperation," Hua said, and would cooperate with the U.S. on that basis.
But rights groups have expressed concerns that there are signs of a worsening climate for human rights in China.
Veteran Mongolian dissident Hada, who is currently under tight surveillance at his home the regional capital Hohhot, said he hoped Trump would use his visit to draw attention to China's rights record.
"In particular, ethnic minorities and vulnerable groups in China who face persecution," he said.
'Torture and ill-treatment'
London-based rights group Amnesty International said on Tuesday it is concerned about the detention of 60-year-old rights lawyer Li Yuhan, held under criminal detention for nearly a month without any official information about the charges against her.
Li has been incommunicado since Oct. 9, and is "at risk of torture and other ill-treatment" in the police-run No. 1 Detention Center in the northeastern city of Shenyang, the group said in an Urgent Action bulletin.
"There are concerns for Li Yuhan’s health, she suffers from a heart condition and, as a result, had major surgery in March 2017," the statement said.
"Detained incommunicado, without confirmed access to a lawyer of her choice, Li Yuhan is at risk of torture and ill-treatment."
Meanwhile, U.S.-based Chinese studies expert Xie Xuanjun said Trump is likely to receive a warm welcome in Beijing following President Xi Jinping's visit to Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in April, with Chinese officials saying they are keen to reciprocate.
"I heard that [Xi] will hold his meeting with Trump in the Forbidden City," Xie said, referring to the ancient imperial palaces to the north of the communist-era Tiananmen Square. "That way, both of them will be able to indulge their taste for playing at being royalty."
But activists in the Chinese capital said police have already sealed off roads around the city's diplomatic quarter ahead of Trump's visit, creating huge inconvenience for local people.
"No vehicles are being allowed in at all for the time being," an employee who answered the phone at the nearby International Trade Center told RFA on Tuesday. "This whole section ... of the street will be like that until Nov. 10."
Reported by Gao Shan, Gao Feng and Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.