Would Tillerson interact with his North Korean counterpart, even informally, if they crossed paths in Manila? It was a question driving the hallway chatter at the gathering, but the U.S. shot down that prospect and said Tillerson had no plans to interact with Ri.
Tillerson, who was scheduled to attend a gala dinner Sunday, skipped it. Ri did not. The North Korean was spotted at the gala smiling and toasting with the other foreign ministers.
Tillerson aide R.C. Hammond said that after a productive first day, Tillerson spent several hours preparing for Day 2. Instead, the U.S. was represented at the dinner by Thornton, whose official title is acting assistant secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs.
But Wang, the Chinese envoy, cast Ri's presence in Manila as a positive, enabling him to "hear the voices from other sides." Speaking in Chinese, Wang said that Ri "also has the right to share his opinions."
Ri hasn't spoken publicly since arriving in the Philippines. But a commentary in the ruling party's Rodong Sinmun newspaper said Washington had disregarded the warning the North sent with its intercontinental ballistic missile tests and was pursuing "desperate efforts" in the form of stepped-up sanctions.
"Now the U.S. mainland is on the crossroads of life and death," the commentary warned.