"I think it's important to recognise that the diplomatic and other efforts of the past 20 years to bring North Korea to a point of denuclearisation have failed", he told a press conference with Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.
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.
Tillerson and Kishida are telling China that they have exhausted of Beijing's excuses and protection of the Kims, and the time has come for them to take action.
But the Secretary added Washington will put a priority on cooperation with Japan and South Korea, so that those three nations may counter more effectively the threats from North Korea.
Journalists at major outlets first began to panic when news broke last week that Tillerson did not plan to take any of the press with him on his trip to Japan, South Korea, and China.
News organizations that travel with US officials pay the USA government for the cost of their air travel. "That includes a period where the United States has provided $1.35 billion (£1.09 billion) in assistance to North Korea as an encouragement to take a different pathway".
There, the United States is now deploying a controversial missile interception system known as Thaad (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence), which could be halted by South Korea's next leader.
The government insists it would be a system like that of France or the US but critics fear it will lead to one-man rule. China sees it as a threat to its own security.
The State Department Correspondents Association said it was "disappointed" by the change in procedure.More news: S. Korea's Park in the doghouse over abandoned pooches
"These are the things that have been have been on the back burner, but they're kind of what's left", Karako said.
The Trump administration has indicated that all options for dealing with North Korea are on the table.
Mr Tillerson said that his trip was meant to get input from other governments on how to deal with North Korea. The Communist leadership will repeat how Sino-U.S. economic agreements help cost-conscious American manufacturers and importers on both sides.
Tillerson will also meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
If Tillerson and his counterparts in Beijing do not find common ground on North Korea, they might leave it to their principals.
Toner tried to reassure inquiring reporters the media will "have broad access" to Tillerson. He spoke through a translator.
Military experts have raised the alarm over the progress of Mr Kim Jong Un's regime, which aspires to develop a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the US. "It was because of budget constraints, and time constraints, and space constraints - then there was a seat made available ... and now you say this is about an effort to include a broader representation of USA media".
During last year's election campaign, presidential candidate Donald Trump called into question USA security alliances and called for Tokyo and Seoul to contribute more for their defence.
Ahead of Tillerson's visit, the U.S. State Department already sent out a positive signal, saying that Washington intends to pursue "a more constructive relationship with China" and look for areas to expand bilateral cooperation. While she has years of experience covering Washington, she is not a State Department beat reporter.