Trump pick for State Dept talks tough on China
WASHINGTON DC — China’s massive reclamation in the South China Sea is illegal, United States President-elect Donald Trump’s Secretary of State nominee, Mr Rex Tillerson, declared during his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday (Jan 11) night.
“China’s island-building in the South China Sea is an illegal taking of disputed areas without regard for international norms,” said Mr Tillerson, according to a copy of his speech released by the Trump transition team.
The former ExxonMobil chief executive’s sharp language on China’s behaviour in international affairs would likely elicit a robust response from China, particularly as it comes on the back of Mr Trump’s recent protocol-bending phone conversation with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.
“China’s economic and trade practices have not always followed its commitments to global agreements. It steals our intellectual property, and is aggressive and expansionist in the digital realm. It has not been a reliable partner in using its full influence to curb North Korea,” Mr Tillerson added.
“China has proven a willingness to act with abandon in pursuit of its own goals, which at times has put it in conflict with America’s interests. We have to deal with what we see, not with what we hope.”
In recent years, concern has been growing about Beijing building artificial islands in the South China Sea, as well as its construction of airstrips and docks on disputed reefs and islands in that body of water.
China has constructed more than 1,214ha of land atop reefs in the past few years.
It claims most of the South China Sea, through which about US$5 trillion (S$7.2 trillion) in shipborne trade passes every year. Neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.
China has responded to Mr Trump’s phone call with Ms Tsai by sending its sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, to carry out drills in the South China Sea in a move that has raised tensions in the region.
Describing Washington’s relations with Beijing as both “adversarial” and “friendly”, Mr Tillerson also stressed the need to “see the positive dimensions” of bilateral ties.
“The economic well-being of our two nations is deeply intertwined. China has been a valuable ally in curtailing elements of radical Islam. We should not let disagreements over other issues exclude areas for productive partnership,” he added.
Commenting on Russia, he said there needs to be open and frank dialogue.
“We must be clear-eyed about our relationship with Russia,” Mr Tillerson said. “Russia today poses a danger but it is not unpredictable in advancing its own interests.”
US primacy has been cast into doubt in recent years as America has been seen as weak in standing up to the likes of China and Iran. He said Moscow’s resurgence happened in the absence of American leadership.
This state of affairs will change, Mr Tillerson said.
“To achieve the stability that is foundational to peace and security in the 21st century, American leadership must not only be renewed, it must be asserted,” the state secretary nominee also said.
And there are many advantages on which the US can build upon to reestablish its global leadership.
“Our alliances are durable and our allies are looking for a return of our leadership. Our men and women in uniform are the world’s finest fighting force, and we possess the world’s largest economy,” Mr Tillerson said. “America is still the destination of choice for people the world over because of our track record of benevolence and hope for our fellow man.”
“Quite simply, we are the only global superpower with the means and the moral compass capable of shaping the world for good. If we do not lead, we risk plunging the world deeper into confusion and danger.” AGENCIES