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John Kerry had been secretary of state for little more than a week when North Korea tested a nuclear bomb.
A senior administration official present at the time says Kerry gathered top aides together for a conversation about how to get China to join the United States in putting pressure on Pyongyang.
The debate encapsulates America's struggle to come up with a strategy - based on sticks, carrots or a combination of both - to convince China to police its own backyard.
As Kerry heads to East Asia for his first time as America's top diplomat, some progress has been made in convincing Beijing, North Korea's biggest benefactor, to start getting tough with its neighbor.
The question is whether it will make a difference.