China Wary that Rex Tillerson's Nomination is Trump's Move to Pursue Russia and Isolate the Mainland
While already reeling from Trump's foray into foreign relations, Beijing has been rocked by US President-elect Donald Trump's decision to nominate Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.
Tillerson has a known deep and long-standing tie with Moscow, and his appointment has been received well by the country's leadership. However, this relationship has fuelled Beijing's fears that Trump's courtship of the Kremlin could be part of his bold strategic effort to isolate China.
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"He's a very adventurous strategist. If Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump become great friends then China can do nothing about it - but China will be prepared for some degree of alienation between Moscow and Beijing," Shi Yinhong, a foreign policy specialist from Renmin University, said.
Tillerson has visited China several times since 2008. During his most recent visit, he met with Wang Yilin, a long-time member of the Communist Party who is also the chairman of the state-run energy behemoth China National Petroleum Corp.
However, the Texas oil magnate enjoys a closer relation with Moscow and is heavily opposed to any sanctions on Russia. He is also reportedly friends with Igor Sechin, a Russian government official who is considered the second most powerful man after President Vladimir Putin. Tillerson was even awarded the Russian Order of Friendship in 2013 after striking a drilling deal with state-run oil giant Rosneft.
China, on the other hand, has offered a lukewarm response to Tillerson's nomination.
"We have noted the relevant reports. We are willing to work with the secretary of state, whoever it is, to move China-US relations forward," foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said.
Ties between Russia and China have bloomed since President Xi Jinping assumed power. Even so, Shi said he understands why Putin could be tempted by Trump's olive branch. Improved relationships with the United States, an end to economic sanctions, and the possibility of reducing Russia's dependency on China could be some of the benefits that Putin sees from a warmer relationship with Washington.