quarta-feira, 14 de dezembro de 2016
'Friends forever'? China wary of Rex Tillerson wooing away Russia
Rex Tillerson, the 64-year-old Exxon Mobile CEO, is president-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for US secretary of state. Tillerson has worked at the oil giant for his entire 41-year career and has strong links with Rosneft in Russia – and with the Kremlin. His appointment now depends on finding majority support among Republicans in the Senate
'Friends forever'? China wary of Rex Tillerson wooing away Russia
The Trump administration will have close ties to Moscow via its secretary of state but relations with Beijing are frosty. Could Sino-Russian ties be under threat?
Tom Phillips in Beijing
Wednesday 14 December 2016 06.59 GMT
Rex Tillerson’s controversial nomination as secretary of state has delighted Moscow where the Texan oilman has deep and long-standing ties. Donald Trump’s choice of the ExxonMobil chief was “100% good news” for Vladimir Putin, one opposition politician claimed.
But in Beijing, already reeling from Trump’s early forays into foreign policy, the move has inspired no such celebration, instead fuelling fears that the president-elect’s courtship of the Kremlin could be part of a bold strategic bid to isolate China.
“He’s a very adventurous strategist,” Shi Yinhong, a foreign policy specialist from Renmin University, said of the incoming president who has already enraged Beijing by threatening to upend decades of US policy towards China.
“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.”
Growing Chinese angst that the Republican might take a harder line on China and seek to drive a wedge between it and Russia was on display on Wednesday in the editorial pages of the Global Times, a state-run tabloid.
The newspaper played down what it said were public “concerns” that warmer ties between Trump and Putin might harm the Sino-Russian relationship but admitted such thinking was “not ridiculous”. “[China and Russia] will keep going forward side by side,” the newspaper insisted.
John Delury, an associate professor of Chinese studies at Yonsei University, said that within Chinese foreign policy circles Tillerson’s nomination was seen as clear evidence of Trump’s “tilt to Russia”.
The oil industry veteran has made at least five trips to China since 2008, most recently in July when he met with Wang Yilin, a longtime Communist party member who is the chairman of state-run energy giant China National Petroleum Corp.
But Tillerson, who has opposed US sanctions against Moscow, enjoys far deeper connections to Russia.
The ExxonMobil chief is reportedly a personal friend of Igor Sechin, a Russian official considered the country’s second-most powerful man after Putin, and was awarded the Russian Order of Friendship in 2013 after striking a drilling deal with state-run oil giant Rosneft.
Delury said that even before Tillerson’s nomination policy wonks in Beijing had raised their eyebrows at how Trump was sending “loving signals to Moscow” but showing no such tenderness to China’s President Xi Jinping.
“They are very much aware of a double standard in how Trump seems to embrace Putin and at best keep Xi Jinping at arms length, if not seem to want a combative relationship.
“It does suggest that there is geopolitics behind this. It is obviously not informed by values: if Trump likes strongmen – as he was accused of – then he should like Xi Jinping as much he likes Putin.”
China has offered a tepid official response to Tillerson’s nomination.
“We have noted the relevant reports,” foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told reporters, adding that Beijing was “willing to work with the secretary of state, whoever it is, to move China-US relations forwards”.
However, some observers say China’s leaders will be alarmed at the possibility that Trump is seeking to play Richard Nixon’s “China card” in reverse by wooing Moscow while treating Beijing mean.
In 1972, in an audacious bid to isolate the Soviets, Nixon and Henry Kissinger travelled to China to seal a historic rapprochement with Mao Zedong.
“I know that you are one who sees when an opportunity comes, and then knows that you must seize the hour and seize the day,” Nixon told Chairman Mao, paraphrasing one of the revolutionary’s own poems.
Now, some believe Trump may be hoping to do the exact opposite: cut an increasingly assertive China down to size by luring Moscow away from its embrace.
“I think that is Trump’s intention,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a political scientist professor from Hong Kong’s Baptist University who believes the billionaire president-elect would like to “detach” Moscow from Beijing.
Political and economic ties between Beijing and Moscow have blossomed since Xi became president in 2013 with the Chinese leader painting the two countries as “friends forever”.
Last year Putin was guest of honour at a massive military parade in Tiananmen Square, appearing on the rostrum on Xi’s right.
Even so, Shi Yinhong said he could see how the Russian leader might be tempted by the carrot Trump was dangling before his nose: improved relations with Washington, and possibly Brussels, an end to economic sanctions, and the ability to reduce Moscow’s dependency on China. “Mr Putin will be very pleased [by this],” he said.
Delury said he would not be surprised if President Trump chose to visit Russia before flying in to Beijing. “He’s looking for leverage with the Chinese and he’s trying to needle them. He’s already getting under their skin with Taiwan and I suppose he could try a Moscow trip too.”
It was even possible Trump might use such a trip to further undermine Beijing by holding talks with the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un on the sidelines of a meeting in the Russian capital.
“That’s the kind of brave new world we could be entering,” Delury said. “Beijing would not like that. It would be a brash move and it would put Beijing in a tough spot because they do want dialogue … and they are always telling the Americans you’ve got to talk to Pyongyang. But if it happened in Moscow without them there and with them kind of in the dark … that could give them a little heartburn.”
But the American scholar said he was unconvinced Trump would manage to break the bond between Russia and China by pursuing an “upside-down Nixon strategy”.
“Putin is going to go along for the ride a little bit but Putin doesn’t want a breakdown in relations with China,” he said.
“The reason it all worked in the Seventies was the Sino-Soviet split. Nixon could do what he did because China and the Soviets were enemies. They were ready to go to war. That isn’t the situation at all today.”