The article originally appeared on India Today.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is in China, met the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Saturday after which both held a joint press conference. There are reports in the US and Chinese media that US President Donald Trump is scheduled to host Chinese President Xi Jinping for a two-day summit on April 6-7 at his mansion Mar-a-Lago in Florida which Trump is using as his winter retreat. Tillerson’s China visit is being seen as intended to lay groundwork for the upcoming summit.

According to Global Times, the sister publication of People’s Daily, Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper, Tillerson’s visit to China has ‘served to reduce anxiety over US-China’ ties. Global Times writes quoting Wang Yi that “the phone call between the two countries’ leaders has served as guidance for both sides” to work out further details.

After Donald Trump assumed the US presidency, the US-China ties have been under cloud with Trump indicating that he may take a different approach to the issues that China finds vital to its interests.

Though Trump put his faith in the One China policy during his first phone call with Jinping last month, his acts in the past have indicated otherwise. Breaking the three decade old US protocol of not speaking to Taiwan, Trump spoke to Taiwan president in November after his victory. Further, Trump said that the ‘One China’ policy was not sacrosanct and was open to new realignments, like with new trade deals. China ferociously follows the ‘One China’ policy and believes Taiwan is a rouge province that will sooner or later come to its fold.


The issue is expected to figure prominently in Trump-Jinping talks. And if we go by a report published in The Independent today that says the Trump Administration is preparing to sell Taiwan arms it needs in case of a Chinese attack, there are bound to be hard negotiations as Sean Spicer, the White House Press Secretary, said after the Trump-Jinping call last month that ‘Trump always gets something in return in negotiations’. The new arms sales package to Taiwan, at a time when both countries are preparing for a summit between their leaders, tells that Trump is not satisfied with what assurance he got from Jinping during his phone call and he intends for more.

Though there were no discussions on Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) issue, it is another issue that Tillerson and Wang Yi would be hoping to work on set the contours of the talks when Jinping-Trump meet next month. China has come down heavily on South Korea for deploying the US missile defense system against North Korea after North Korea tested ballistic missiles this month. China is opposed to THAAD’s deployment in the region saying it disturbs power balance and is inimical to its interest in the South China Sea, another disputed region where China is pitted against the US and other world powers after a UN panel rejected Chinese claims on the South China Sea.

Tillerson’s China visit, it seems, is aimed at finding common grounds for bottleneck issues to prepare conducive atmosphere for Trump-Jinping summit, something that China also realises. Global Times, quoting Wang Yi, writes, “It is normal for China and the US to have their differences, and that open communication is essential.”



The article originally appeared on India Today.

China has hit back through its state media after the next US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson threatened Beijing to block it from the South China Sea.

Continuing the dismissive tone taken by China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kong, a Global Times editorial has termed Tillerson’s remarks during his confirmation hearing an indignant talk with little effect and questioned whether it was a bluff for the US Senate. Global Times is the official mouthpiece of China’s ruling Communist Party and represents the country’s official line on issues.

Rex Tillerson, former ExxonMobil CEO and US President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for his ‘Secretary of State’, had told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his confirmation hearing that China would not be allowed to build more islands in the South China Sea and at the same time, would not be allowed access to those islands it has already built.


Terming Tillerson’s remarks ‘self-proclaimed’, the editorial wrote that ‘China has enough determination and strength to make sure that his rabble-rousing will not succeed and unless Washington plans to wage a large-scale war in the South China Sea, any other approaches to prevent Chinese access to the islands will be foolish’.

While saying that the US has no absolute power to dominate the South China Sea, the editorial says that the remarks made by Tillerson are the most radical of all the US statements towards China so far.

The editorial expects that Tillerson’s words on South China Sea are aimed at merely securing his confirmation from the US Senate and will not translate into policy priorities of the Donald Trump administration or else ‘the two sides had better prepare for a military clash’.


Mocking Tillerson for his credentials, the editorial says probably he just had oil prices and currency rates on his mind as former ExxonMobil CEO when he made those remarks. Bragging of China as being a big nuclear power, the Global Times piece opines that ‘Tillerson had better bone up on nuclear power strategies if he wants to force a big nuclear power to withdraw from its own territories’.

In its initial response yesterday, China had dismissed Tillerson’s claims. Lu Kong had said that what Tillerson said was ‘hypothetical’ while asserting the Chinese supremacy over the South China Sea.



The article originally appeared on India Today.

Rex Tillerson, former Exxon Mobil CEO and US President Elect Donald Trump’s pick for his ‘Secretary of State’, has told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that China will not be allowed to build more islands in the South China Sea and at the same time, will not be allowed access to those islands it has already built.

During his confirmation hearing, Tillerson said that ‘he is going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed’, a Reuters report said.

He compared Chinese acts in the South China Sea to the Russian aggression in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. The Reuters report quoting him said that Tillerson considered China’s South China Sea activity “extremely worrisome” and that it would be a threat to the “entire global economy” if Beijing were able to dictate access to the waterway.


The spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Lu Kong, has dismissed Tillerson’s words ‘as hypothetical’ in his initial response while asserting the Chinese supremacy over the South China Sea. Lu Kong said that the situation in the South China Sea has cooled down as countries in the region have come round to the agreement. We hope that countries outside the region will respect such an agreement that serves the common interests of the region and beyond.


While Lu Kong said that Tillerson’s words didn’t matter, Chinese experts have warned that China is going to retaliate heavily to any US attempt to block China access to the South China Sea.

South China Morning Post wrote ‘what’s been built has been built’, quoting Wu Xinbo, head of American Studies at Shanghai’s Fudan University. It quoted another expert as saying “China is not Cuba, and the South China Sea is not the Caribbean. The South China Sea is not under the US sphere of influence, it’s China’s territorial waters.”

South China Morning Post is a prominent English language newspaper of China and is now controlled by Hangzhou based e-commerce giant Alibaba Group. And we know that nothing appears in the Chinese media, especially on international policy matters like this, without the state approval.


Though analysts have pointed out that it may be Tillerson’s personal opinion and he would have said so to hide his inexperience in diplomatic affairs, when we see it in the context of what Donald Trump has been saying about China, Tillerson’s words well may be the indication of the things to come.

Trump has been targeting China pre or post his election, especially on trade imbalances and the loss of US jobs to China. He quotes Russia and China when he makes pitch for military and nuclear expansion of the US. He became the first US President-Elect in decades to defy the US policy of following One China norm and called the Taiwanese President angering Beijing. China considers Taiwan as its renegade province.


Territorial dispute in the South China Sea involves seven countries, i.e., China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. A busy trade route passes through it and all other countries except China are in favour of keeping its status as free, international waters. China wants to control it as it imports most of its oil through this trade route. Doing so would enable China to establish hegemony in East and Southeast Asia that no other country involved in the dispute is capable of.

Also, it would keep foreign military forces like the US away from the region. The US Navy has a sizeable presence in the South China Sea and it routinely carries out patrols in the area to deter the Chinese efforts maintaining that the South China Sea waters remain free for international navigation. China doesn’t recognize these claims including the United Nations Convention on Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) and says China exercises control over these areas since ancient times and if there is any dispute it should be resolved by the countries directly concerned as Lu Kong said in his press briefing today.