US secretary of state questions how the US and China will 'live with each other' in the coming half century

Ruth Sherlock
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, center, arrives at Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, China, Saturday, March 18, 2017. -  Mark Schiefelbein/AP Photo

Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state has said he is uncertain of how America and China will continue to co-exist "for the next half century".

Speaking during his first state visit to Beijing, Mr Tillerson said he was committed to establishing an "era of peace" with China, but was surprisingly frank in expressing his concerns about the relationship between the two super powers.

"There is a question perhaps even in the minds of the Chinese: How will the American people, the Chinese people, live with each other in this world for the next half century?" he said. 

Mr Tillerson said that as China had opened itself to the world, and begun to occupy a place in the global economy, the two nations had "managed to exist with one another in a spirit of non-conflict".

They had their differences and but still did what was "in the best interest of our people".

But Mr Tillerson, the former Exxon Mobil chief executive, said that globalisation was changing this. He characterised the world as being at "an inflection point in the relationship of global powers".

Without elaborating he warned that there are "issues arising that have gone unresolved". 

He made the comments to a journalist from the Independent Journal Review, a social media-minded news outlet geared toward young conservatives, in his first sit-down interview since taking on his new role in the Trump administration. 

The journalist was the only person allowed to accompany Mr Tillerson on his plane as he made his three-nation tour through northeast Asia.

That too, was a departure from convention, with Mr Tillerson choosing to leave the  travelling press pool at home. 

Mr Tillerson explained in his interview with the IJR that he saw the press as a distraction from the work required by his new role:  "I’m not a big media press access person," he said. "I personally don’t need it."

Buzzfeed recently reported that Nick Ayers, a top political adviser to Mike Pence, the vice president, is a major investor in the IJR.

Beijing is the final stop in the journey that the state department described as a "listening tour" through Japan, South Korea and China.

Mr Tillerson is expected to meet with Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, on Sunday.

He is likely to discuss China's claim to virtually the entire South China Sea, including its building of islands atop coral reefs, complete with airstrips and military installations.

During his confirmation hearings in January, Mr Tillerson compared China's island-building and deployment of military assets to Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea, and suggested that China's access to its newly built islands should be blocked.

Rex Tillerson and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo this week Credit: EPA

While Donald Trump pledged during his campaign to slap 45 percent tariffs on imports from China and label the country a currency manipulator, there has been little indication of his doing either. 

The Trump administration appears to have dropped traditional concerns about human rights abuses in countries overseas, formerly a key element of US policy toward China - and a major irritant in bilateral relations.

This was evidenced in Mr Tillerson's decision to skip the launch of an annual report on human rights last week that cited numerous abuses by China. He has also said the US would not continue participating in the UN Human Rights Council unless it undergoes "considerable reform." 

Profile | Rex Tillerson

 

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